| Fake ID
- Identity Theft: Fact and fiction
| Identity Theft: Fact and fiction
September 18, 2002
By Jonathan J. Rusch
In Shakespeare's Othello, Iago laments that "he that filches from me my good name/Robs me of that which not enriches him/And makes me poor indeed." In the modern world, by contrast, filching someone else's good name through identity theft can significantly enrich the criminal and impoverish the victim.
Some federal cases within the last year suggest why identity theft has become one of the fastest-growing forms of white-collar crime:
• A man was indicted in Miami on identity theft-related charges relating to his alleged filing of false federal tax returns in the names of 614 Florida prisoners, seeking more than $3 million in fraudulent refunds.
• A woman was convicted in Seattle on various identity theft-related offenses involving at least $464,000 of fraud under false identities that the defendant and her co-conspirators had set up.
• A man was sentenced in Los Angeles to federal prison for managing an auto theft and identity theft ring, in which conspirators stole biographic and credit information from real people and used the data to buy luxury cars amounting to more than $200,000.
• A man pleaded guilty in Seattle to federal identity-theft and fraud charges, after using the names and Social Security numbers of other people to open several credit card accounts and make nearly $200,000 in fraudulent charges across the United States and in Italy.
Contrary to some views, identity theft is indeed about numbers and about money. A recent study by Meridian Research makes the projection that by 2006 the financial institution sector alone will lose $8 billion to identity theft. In addition, an estimated 500,000 to 700,000 people a year become victims of identity theft, and Federal Trade Commission data show that nearly 86,000 people filed identity theft complaints in 2001. Many of those people suffer significant financial loss. Furthermore, when terrorists exploit identity theft, the financial and human costs to society as a whole can be catastrophic.
Contrary to some views, identity theft is indeed about numbers and about money.
What's the proper response to identity theft? In a recent Perspectives column, David Holtzman properly notes that the nature of digital communications has helped to create an environment that facilitates identity theft. At the same time, he asserts that identity theft legislation will not effectively contain the problem, in part because "it's too difficult to enforce, let alone prove, for legal action to be an effective deterrent" and because "the basic ammo to load the judicial guns (for enforcement actions)--such as clear guidelines on identity--is not at hand."
In fact, law enforcement has both the ammunition and the firepower to combat identity theft effectively.
Under a 1998 federal criminal statute, for example, federal prosecutors can go after any knowing and unauthorized use or transfer of someone else's "means of identification," where the criminal intends to commit, or even aid and abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a federal offense or a state or local felony.
The statute also clearly defines the term "means of identification" to include nearly every conceivable way we use to identify ourselves in everyday life: names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, credit card numbers, codes, account numbers, and even unique biometric data, to name just a few.
Violations are punishable by up to 15 years imprisonment (25 years, if the crime is committed to facilitate international terrorism), and Congress is already considering a bill, S. 2541, to broaden its scope and increase identity theft sentences. At least 47 states also have legislation relating to identity theft, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
In fact, law enforcement has both the ammunition and the firepower to combat identity theft effectively.
Nor have prosecutors been shy about using these laws to go after identity theft. For example, in May 2002 Attorney General John Ashcroft announced a nationwide "sweep" of federal identity theft cases, in which 73 criminal prosecutions were brought against 135 individuals in 24 districts. The crimes alleged to be associated with these identity theft cases ranged from traditional fraud to the murder of a homeless man, where the criminal, already under indictment for counterfeiting, sought to fake his own death to avoid prosecution.
So where's the real problem in controlling identity theft?
Certainly no legislation by itself can effectively contain the identity theft problem, any more than the mere existence of laws against securities fraud, environmental pollution or public corruption can effectively contain those problems. The effectiveness of any law in controlling crime depends not only on public acceptance of the norms reflected in that law, but also on general recognition--by individuals, government and private sector entities--of how identity theft works and what roles they each need to play in identifying and reporting violations of that law.
That kind of general recognition, however, is still sorely lacking. Many well-educated and experienced professionals still need to learn some of the most basic facts about identity theft, such as:
• Identity theft can happen to anyone. Unlike other types of fraud, which depend on victims communicating directly with fraudsters, identity theft can start whenever a criminal gets unauthorized access to someone else's means of identification, regardless of whether the victim is aware of that access.
• Identity theft can harm victims for long periods of time before it is detected. In one case, two defendants allegedly used the names and Social Security numbers of recently deceased individuals that they found on various Web sites to get credit cards and credit accounts in the victims' names. They then used their real names and the victims' names to order credit reports so they could track the accounts they had fraudulently set up.
• Identity theft must be reported to law enforcement as soon as it's discovered. When people find that they've become identity theft victims, they need to report the crime promptly to law enforcement agencies, through the Federal Trade Commission's toll-free number (1-877-ID-THEFT) or online complaint form. Prompt reporting helps law enforcement to open investigations and pursue leads before the trail grows cold.
Identity theft, in short, isn't a problem that affects just the "wired generation," or that stems just from Internet access. People of all ages, whether technophiles or technophobes, need to become proactive in watching out for identity theft.
High-tech measures such as authentication technology, antivirus software and firewalls are fine for reducing the risks of unauthorized people getting improper access to PCs at home or work. But low-tech measures, like closely checking your credit-card bills every month and getting and reviewing a copy of your credit report at least once a year, also need to be part of every consumer's plan to reduce the risk of identity theft. (The Justice Department has an online quiz about identity theft that can help you figure out how else to reduce that risk.)
Ultimately, the real challenges of identity theft come from figuring out how to combine enforcement and prevention resources most effectively. The right combination could eliminate identity theft as a significant threat to both personal and homeland security
- Camouflage Passports
What are Camouflage Passports?
Camouflage Passports were initially invented to provide some sort of security to citizens of countries like Israel and the USA when confronted with risky environments and terrorist threats. The idea was to hide real identity by presenting a potential terrorist or hijacker a "false" officially looking document from another country.
A Camouflage Passport looks exactly like a real passport but the issuer is a non-existent country: states that have changed their names after gaining independence. They are for example former British or Dutch colonies such as Rhodesia, Zanzibar, Dutch Guyana, Netherlands East Indies, etc. Thus, British Honduras is now Belize, while Zanzibar has become today's Tanzania. Upper Volt became Burkina Faso, etc.
These passports aren't thus designed to to be used in actual traveling or in border controls, and we strongly emphasize against their use when crossing from one country to another. If the border official spots the plot you can very probably be parked in a foreign jail. And your country's consulate or embassy won't be either very happy trying to help someone pretending not to be one of their citizens in the first place.
In some countries this may be a felony, but even where it isn't, people caught
traveling with "counterfeit documents" are always viewed with strong suspicion. You may even face an espionage charge, depending on the current political situation,
Do I need now a Camouflage Passport?
Probably not, if you are already the proud owner of a valid second citizenship for emergency purposes and have at least some of your assets stashed away in safety. Of course not in the country where you are living or working.
In other words, only if don't need to protect "your ass and assets", it might seem a sheer waste of time and money to obtain a Camouflage Passport. However, that will hardly apply to most of us! You can never be completely sure if and when some unexpected nasty streak of events will hit you, can you? There are many daunting possibilities in these social and political systems based on permanent state controlled brainwashing and manipulation!
You can suddenly become the accidental victim of many unforeseen events. Your country's regime could change over night. And any individual as a member of any religious, social, sexual, political, economical, etc. group can be in danger. And then there are the envious
neighbors, false denounces, laboral risks, financial risks, divorces, and an endless stream of unwanted possibilities. You have the right to protect yourself don't you? And if camouflage passports can provide some sort of security, the question turns out to be why shouldn't I own this cheap and affordable protection?.
No one can guarantee you the efficacy of a Camouflage Passport when it comes to planning your escape or actually fleeing a politically oppressive system. However, keep in mind that if you have not - now - advanced plans with other - better - alternatives, a Camouflage Passport just might make the difference between life and death (either financial or otherwise) when the moment of decisive action comes.
However, there are other, more obvious uses for a Camouflage Passport, which is why we highly recommend procuring one or more.
Do Camouflage Passports have other utilities?
Well, we have heard of some smart guys who have done wonders with them. They told us that to anonymize your banking assets, this useful gadget can be of great help. This can be quite critical in a world where the much flaunted "War on Drugs" has led to the disappearance of banking privacy in most parts of the whole world.
Although we warned you before to hide this document to border guards and consular officials, bank employees on the contrary aren't trained to recognize foreign documents. Thus, if your name is "John Smith" and you have a Camouflage Passport from, say, British Honduras on the name "Peter Young" and use it to identify yourself when setting up a new account with a foreign bank, you can insure total anonymity even if that country's banking laws do not permit of such a thing. Never EVER do it in the place where you are actually living or working!.
Because the bank will not be aware of your true identity, they cannot give you away even if they wanted to. To make this point very clear: most banks, foreign or domestic, almost never actually want to - they are usually being forced by law or coerced by other means if they actually do tell on you. Nevertheless, this will hardly be of any benefit to you when caught in the administrative bureaucracy.
Please be warned though, that such a procedure is a criminal offence in most countries. Obviously, the document alone is not enough, you have to develop the bearing and
behavior to go along with it. On the other hand, a banker's job consists primarily of relieving you of your money, so the risk of actually getting caught is pretty slim unless you botch the whole thing by not adhering to the standard advice of always keeping a low profile.
Camouflage passports: the key points
In addition a Camouflage passport can be used to safeguard your real passport. Consider those trips to countries where some hotels require that you leave your passport in an unprotected pigeon hole overnight. Instead of risking the loss of your real passport you you hand them your alternate identity Camouflage Passport, unless this contravenes with the laws of the country concerned
Protect your true identity.
You may have a multitude of of reasons why your true identity could put you in an undesirable position, particularly if you are high-profile or wealthy. The wealthy are exploited and hassled in many ways. They are always prime targets for some reason or another. Your personal privacy is your fundamental right, but in today's technological world it is too often compromised at your expense. An alternate identity may be just what the doctor ordered for your lifelong preservation !!
- Protecting Against Identity Theft
| What should I do if someone has stolen or scammed my personal information or identification documents?
If your information or identification documents were stolen or scammed, you have an opportunity to prevent the misuse of that information if you can take action quickly.
For financial account information such as credit card or bank account information: Close those accounts immediately. When you open new ones, place passwords on these accounts. Avoid using your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.
For SSNs: Call the toll-free fraud number of any one of the three major credit bureaus and place an initial fraud alert on your credit reports. This can help prevent an identity thief from opening new credit accounts in your name. See What are fraud alerts?
To replace an SSN card: Call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 to get a replacement.
For driver's license or other identification documents: Contact the issuing agency. Follow their procedures to place fraud flags and to get replacements.
Once you have taken these precautions, there really isn't anything more you need to do except to check for the signs that your information is being misused. See How can I tell if I'm a victim of identity theft? You don't have to file an identity theft report with the police or with the FTC until you find out if your information is actually being misused. If another crime was committed, such as theft of your purse or wallet or your house or car was broken into, report that crime to the police.
How can I prevent identity theft from happening to me?
As with any crime, you can't guarantee that you will never be a victim, but you can minimize your risk. By managing your personal information widely, cautiously and with an awareness of the issue, you can help guard against identity theft.
Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you've initiated the contact or are sure you know who you're dealing with. Identity thieves may pose as representatives of banks, Internet service providers (ISPs) and even government agencies to get you to reveal your SSN, mother's maiden name, account numbers, and other identifying information. Before you share any personal information, confirm that you are dealing with a legitimate organization. Check an organization's website by typing its URL in the address line, rather than cutting and pasting it. Many companies post scam alerts when their name is used improperly. Or call customer service using the number listed on your account statement or in the telephone book. For more information, see How Not to Get Hooked by a 'Phishing' Scam.
Don't carry your SSN card; leave it in a secure place.
Secure personal information in your home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help or are having service work done in your home.
Guard your mail and trash from theft:
Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office, rather than in an unsecured mailbox. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox. If you're planning to be away from home and can't pick up your mail, call the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 to request a vacation hold. The Postal Service will hold your mail at your local post office until you can pick it up or are home to receive it.
To thwart an identity thief who may pick through your trash or recycling bins to capture your personal information, tear or shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired charge cards that you're discarding, and credit offers you get in the mail. If you do not use the pre-screened credit card offers you receive in the mail, you can opt out by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567- 8688). Please note that you will be asked for your Social Security number in order for the credit bureaus to identify your file so that they can remove you from their lists and you still may receive some credit offers because some companies use different lists from the credit bureaus' lists. For more information, see How can I prevent companies from using my personal information for marketing?
Carry only the identification information and the number of credit and debit cards that you'll actually need.
Place passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers. When opening new accounts, you may find that many businesses still have a line on their applications for your mother's maiden name. Use a password instead.
Ask about information security procedures in your workplace or at businesses, doctor's offices or other institutions that collect personally identifying information from you. Find out who has access to your personal information and verify that it is handled securely. Ask about the disposal procedures for those records as well. Find out if your information will be shared with anyone else. If so, ask if you can keep your information confidential.
Give your SSN only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use other types of identifiers when possible. If your state uses your SSN as your driver's license number, ask to substitute another number. Do the same if your health insurance company uses your SSN as your account number.
Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if your bills don't arrive on time. A missing bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.
Be wary of promotional scams. Identity thieves may use phony offers to get you to give them your personal information.
Keep your purse or wallet in a safe place at work as well as any copies you may keep of administrative forms that contain your sensitive
When ordering new checks, pick them up at the bank, rather than having them sent to your home mailbox.
If you're being deployed in the military, place an active duty alert. See What"s an active duty alert?
I have a computer and use the Internet. What should I be concerned about?
If you're storing personal information such as SSNs, financial records, tax returns, birth dates, or bank account numbers in your computer, the following tips can help you keep your computer and your personal information safe from intruders:
Virus protection software should be updated regularly, and patches for your operating system and other software programs should be installed to protect against intrusions and infections that can lead to the compromise of your computer files or passwords. Ideally, virus protection software should be set to automatically update each week. The Windows XP operating system also can be set to automatically check for patches and download them to your computer.
Do not open files sent to you by strangers, or click on hyperlinks or download programs from people you don't know. Be careful about using file-sharing programs. Opening a file could expose your system to a computer virus or a program known as Aspyware,@ which could capture your passwords or any other information as you type it into your keyboard. For more information, see File Sharing: A Fair Share? Maybe Not and Spyware.
Use a firewall program, especially if you use a high-speed Internet connection like cable, DSL or T-1 that leaves your computer connected to the Internet 24 hours a day. The firewall program will allow you to stop uninvited access to your computer. Without it, hackers can take over your computer, access the personal information stored on it, or use it to commit other crimes.
Use a secure browser B software that encrypts or scrambles information you send over the Internet B to guard your online transactions. Be sure your browser has the most up-to-date encryption capabilities by using the latest version available from the manufacturer. You also can download some browsers for free over the Internet. When submitting information, look for the Alock@ icon on the browser's status bar to be sure your information is secure during transmission.
Try not to store financial information on your laptop unless absolutely necessary. If you do, use a strong password B a combination of letters (upper and lower case), numbers and symbols. A good way to create a strong password is to think of a memorable phrase and use the first letter of each word as your password, converting some letters into numbers that resemble letters. For example, "I love Felix; he's a good cat," would become 1LFHA6c. Don=t use an automatic log-in feature that saves your user name and password, and always log off when you=re finished. That way, if your laptop is stolen, it=s harder for a thief to access your personal information.
Before you dispose of a computer, delete all the personal information it stored. Deleting files using the keyboard or mouse commands or reformatting your hard drive may not be enough because the files may stay on the computer's hard drive, where they may be retrieved easily. Use a "wipe" utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive
What=s an active duty alert?
If you are a member of the military and away from your usual duty station, you may place an active duty alert on your credit reports to help minimize the risk of identity theft while you are deployed. Active duty alerts are in effect on your report for one year. If your deployment lasts longer, you can place another alert on your credit report.
When you place an active duty alert, you'll be removed from the credit reporting companies= marketing list for pre-screened credit card offers for two years unless you ask to go back on the list before then.
To place this alert on your credit report, or to have it removed, contact one of the three major credit bureaus. You will be required to provide appropriate proof of your identity: that may include your SSN, name, address and other personal information requested by the consumer reporting company. You may use a personal representative to place or remove an alert.
When a business sees the alert on your credit report, it must verify your identity before issuing credit. As part of this verification process, the business may try to contact you directly. This may cause some delays if you=re trying to obtain credit. To compensate for possible delays, you may wish to include a cell phone number, where you can be reached easily, in your alert. Remember to keep all contact information in your alert current.
Are companies allowed to print my entire credit card number on my receipt?
After December 4, 2006, companies will not be allowed to print your credit or debit card expiration date or more than the last 5 digits of your card number on your electronic receipt. Some businesses will be required to make this change sooner, depending on the way they process credit card transactions. The law will allow receipts that are hand written or mechanically imprinted to show your entire number and expiration date, even after December 4, 2006. For more information see section 605(g) of the FCRA.
How can I prevent companies from using my personal information for marketing?
More organizations are offering consumers choices about how their personal information is used. For example, many let you "opt out" of having your information shared with others or used for marketing purposes. For more information see Privacy: What You Do Know Can Protect You and Privacy Choices for Your Personal Financial Information. You also can visit the FTC websites Privacy Initiatives and National Do Not Call Registry.
When should I provide my Social Security number?
Your employer and financial institution will likely need your SSN for wage and tax reporting purposes. Other businesses may ask you for your SSN to do a credit check, like when you apply for a car loan. Sometimes, however, they simply want your SSN for general record keeping. If someone asks for your SSN, ask the following questions:
Why do you need it?
How will it be used?
How do you protect it from being stolen?
What will happen if I don't give it to you?
If you don't provide your SSN, some businesses may not provide you with the service or benefit you want. Getting satisfactory answers to your questions, though, will help you to decide whether you want to share your SSN with the business.
Should I buy identity theft insurance?
Some companies offer insurance or similar products that claim to give you protection against the costs associated with resolving an identity theft case. As with any product or service, make sure you understand what you're getting before you buy. Be aware that most creditors will only deal with you to resolve problems, so the insurance company in most cases will not be able to reduce that burden. Contact your local consumer protection agency or the Better Business Bureau to find out if they have any complaints on file