Archive for April, 2013

Police: Quick action can combat identity theft

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

A woman’s quick actions after her purse was snatched prevented two suspected thieves from opening an account at a Cricket phone service store with her money, authorities said.

The duo was arrested last week after the woman spotted the suspects at the cellphone store on the same block on which her purse was stolen about an hour before, according to a police news release.

But it was the woman’s quick cancellation of her debit card that prevented its use to open an account, police spokesman J.J. Treviño said.

“If it wasn’t for that I’m sure these individuals probably would have been able to open an account,” Treviño said.

Her quick actions prevented the fraudulent purchase, and authorities say anyone who could be the victim of theft should act just as quickly to protect assets and information.

“Everyone should be aware of what they are doing with their identity nowadays,” Treviño said. “It’s so easy because of the Internet, but just like anything else, you need to be aware of what you have and what you have is kept safe.”

Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Johnny Hernandez said with credit and debit cards, it’s important to have all those numbers written down somewhere and kept away from the actual cards so that if a purse or wallet is stolen, banks and credit companies can be alerted immediately.

Authorities agree that the worst thing any victim of theft involving financial and personal information can do is nothing at all.

“The more time you take to report that card, more damage is going to be done,” he said.

Internal Revenue Service spokeswoman Irma Treviño said that while it’s difficult to not carry credit and debit cards, people should never carry their Social Security cards.

“Be very careful with personal information, and when I say ‘very careful’ I mean not to provide anyone with your Social Security card or credit card accounts,” she said. Nor should information on those cards be given over the phone unless a person made the call and knows the person on the other line.

Irma Treviño and Hernandez both said it’s important to lock Social Security cards and other important personal information in a lock box or secure place.

“Not only Social Security numbers should be kept safe, but also credit card numbers and passwords and bank account information,” Irma Treviño said. “Don’t ever throw away those (bank) slips because they make up other cards, other ways of trying to steal your identity. We cannot give clues to thieves.”

But if personal information is stolen, act quickly.

“You’re going to have a horrible headache for many years, but don’t let it go. As soon as you find out you are a victim of identity theft, you need to report it immediately and follow up. Don’t let it go,” Irma Treviño said.

To report identity theft, call the IRS specialized identity theft unit at (800) 908-4490.

Protect yourself:

When people’s identities are stolen, there are important steps to take.

  • Notify the police or sheriff’s office;
  • Contact driver’s license office;
  • Notify creditors and merchants;
  • Notify your bank;
  • Contact the Social Security Administration;
  • Notify the Federal Trade Commission;
  • Notify the U.S. Passport Agency.

Report the theft to one of three major credit reporting agencies:

  • Equifax: To request a credit report: (800) 685-1111. To report fraud: (800) 525-6285 or write to P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374 or the website:
  • Experian: To request a credit report or report fraud: (888) 397-3742 or write to P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013 or website:
  • Trans Union: To request a credit report: (800) 888-4213. To report fraud: (800) 680-7280; write to P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92634; or email:

SOURCE: Texas Department of Public Safety

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Epidemic of ID theft hits seniors

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

This post is by Kay Bell at


© Diane MacdonaldWhen it comes to identity thieves vs. the Internal Revenue Service, the crooks have the edge. For now.


That was the consensus at a recent congressional hearing examining what the Senate Special Committee on Aging calls an epidemic of identity theft among seniors and other taxpayers.


Why the focus on older Americans? Because many of them aren’t required to file a tax return. If a person relies solely on Social Security benefits, that money isn’t taxed. Even if they supplement their golden years’ earnings, as long as the amount doesn’t exceed a certain threshold, the income is not taxable, meaning they don’t have to worry about reporting it to Uncle Sam.


Since these senior citizens don’t have to file a return, they are often unaware that their identities have been stolen to file fraudulent tax returns, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George told the Senate hearing.

And that’s where the Catch-22 comes in. If the individuals don’t report the ID theft, there’s no way for the IRS to know the returns are fraudulently filed. The agency typically doesn’t learn about falsely filed returns until the real taxpayers submit the correct, but duplicate, 1040 forms.


So the fake tax refunds are paid out to the criminals. And that means taxpayer dollars are lost.


Increasing tax ID theft

Tax identity theft has continued to increase among all taxpayers, not just older folks. In 2011, the IRS identified more than 1 million such instances. As of Dec. 31, 2012, the IRS reported almost 1.8 million tax ID theft cases.


The 2012 number includes approximately 280,000 cases brought to the IRS’ attention by taxpayers who reported they were victims of identity theft. More than 1.5 million ID theft incidents were detected by the IRS as potential identity theft.


George told senators that because of the delay in the start of this year’s filing season, his office has yet to compile data or compare trends. “However, it is highly likely that incidents of identity theft will show a continued increase when the current filing season is concluded,” he said.


IRS ramps up efforts

The inspector did offer one bit of positive news on federal efforts to combat tax identity theft.


In late March, the IRS announced it was expanding a program designed to help law enforcement officials nationwide obtain tax return data for their investigations and prosecutions of specific cases of identity theft. It’s a continuation of a pilot program started in April 2012 in Florida that gave state officials the ability, via a written disclosure consent waiver from the victim, to obtain tax returns filed using the victim’s Social Security number.


The pilot was expanded in October 2012 to eight additional states — Alabama, California, Georgia, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas. Now such tax information sharing is available in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Prosecution of ID thieves will help. Prevention is better.


The IRS says it’s working on that, too.


In an op-ed piece in USA Today following the Senate hearing, Deputy Commissioner of the IRS Beth Tucker cited some of the agency’s efforts. Among them are security filters used in processing returns. She says the agency’s efforts have “already blocked 2 million suspicious returns.”


Federal funds key

That’s a good start. Here’s hoping that Congress will do its part and make sure the IRS has the funding it needs to keep these programs in place and add more as needed to keep identity thieves’ hands off our tax returns.


That’s not just my wish. TIGTA’s George told lawmakers the same thing.


“Without the necessary resources, it is unlikely that the IRS will be able to work the entire inventory of potentially fraudulent tax returns it identifies,” he said. “The net cost of not providing the necessary resources is substantial, given that the potential revenue loss to the federal government of these tax fraud-related identity theft cases is billions of dollars annually.”


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Police seeking woman accused of identity theft in Salem, Albany, Lincoln City

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Jennifer_Rose.jpgView full sizeJennifer Rose

Salem police are looking for a woman suspected in a series of recent identity theft cases.

Jennifer Lynn Rose, 39, may be staying in the Albany or Lebanon area, police said. She is accused of identity theft, forgery and theft in Salem, Albany and Lincoln City over the last three months.

She is described as 5-foot-8, about 175 pounds with long brown hair and blue eyes. She may be driving a green 2000 Dodge Neon with an Oregon license plate of 625CSN or a white Ford Focus hatchback.

Anyone with information on Rose’s whereabouts is asked to call Salem police at 503-588-6123.

— Everton Bailey Jr.

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SEC and CFTC issue identity theft red flags rules applicable to financial …

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

The SEC and CFTC recently issued joint Identity Theft Red Flags Rules (the “Rules”), which are rules and guidelines requiring certain financial institutions worldwide to adopt comprehensive data security programs to detect red flags and prevent identity theft. Pursuant to the Rules, covered entities must develop and implement a written, board-approved program which identifies and detects the relevant warning signs – or “red flags” – of identity theft. Given the Rules’ potential breadth and scope, SEC-registered investment advisers, broker-dealers, mutual funds, commodity pool operators, commodity trading advisors and futures commission merchants should carefully consider whether and how the Rules apply to their organizations. In addition, all companies should keep in mind that certain state laws may require adoption of privacy practices and procedures to limit the risk of identity theft and to protect against loss of consumers’ personal information.

To Whom do the Red Flags Rules Apply?

The Red Flags Rules further the SEC’s and CFTC’s efforts to protect consumers from identity theft. Covered entities are required to develop and implement a program of identity theft prevention for combating identity theft.

General Considerations

Section 615(e)(1)(A) and (B) of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (the “FCRA”), as amended by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (the “Dodd-Frank Act”),1requires that the SEC and the CFTC (each, an “Agency” and, collectively, the “Agencies”) jointly establish and maintain guidelines for “financial institutions” and “creditors” regarding identity theft.2 The Rules apply to any financial institution or creditor that offers or maintains “covered accounts” and is subject to SEC or CFTC enforcement authority. As a result, the Rules may affect SEC-registered investment advisers, broker-dealers or mutual funds, and entities subject to supervision by the CFTC as commodity pool operators, commodity trading advisors or futures commission merchants that meet the definition of financial institution or creditor.

A financial institution is defined as any “person that, directly or indirectly, holds a transaction account . . . belonging to a consumer.”3 A transaction account includes any account on which an individual is permitted to “make withdrawals by negotiable or transferable instrument, payment orders of withdrawal, telephone transfers, or other similar items for the purpose of making payments or transfers to third persons or others.”4 A creditor is defined as an entity that “regularly and in the course of business . . . advances funds to or on behalf of a person, based on an obligation of the person to repay the funds or repayable from specific property pledged by or on behalf of the person.”5 The SEC Rule expressly indicates this would include brokers or dealers who offer margin accounts, securities lending services and short selling services. The Rules list those entities the SEC and CFTC consider most likely to be deemed financial institutions or creditors.6

As discussed above, the Rules apply only to financial institutions and creditors offering or maintaining “covered accounts.” The Rules define a covered account as (1) an account offered or maintained primarily for “personal, family, or household purposes” designed to permit multiple payments or transactions, or (2) “any other account that the financial institution or creditor offers or maintains for which there is a reasonably foreseeable risk to customers . . . of identity theft.”7  The SEC and CFTC emphasize that covered accounts must represent a continuing relationship between the person and financial institution or creditor to obtain a product or service for personal, family or household purposes. The Agencies explain that where accounts are not primarily for personal, family or household use, a financial institution or creditor may implement a program under the Rules addressing only those accounts that present a reasonably foreseeable risk of identity theft.

In adopting the Rules, the SEC and CFTC expressly acknowledged that entities deemed to be a financial institution or creditor which already have adopted a written identity theft prevention program pursuant to rules adopted by other federal agencies are not required to seek board re-approval of such program provided the program otherwise meets the requirements of the Rules.

Special Considerations for Investment Advisers

Despite receiving numerous comments requesting that investment advisers be excluded from the scope of the Rules, the SEC expressly declined to do so.8 In declining to exclude investment advisers, the SEC explained that an adviser who retains the ability to “direct transfers or payments from an individual investor’s account” to a third party upon the investor’s instructions, holds a transaction account for purposes of the Rules. The SEC attempted to clarify this position through two examples. Under the Rules, an investment adviser authorized to direct payments from an individual investor’s account (whether or not such investor’s funds are held with a qualified custodian) to a third party would be deemed to hold a transaction account. In the SEC’s view, the same outcome would likely apply to a private fund adviser authorized to direct investment proceeds, including redemption and distribution payments, to a third party. The SEC noted that an investment adviser with authority to withdraw funds from an individual investor’s account to pay the adviser’s fee would not be deemed to hold a transaction account for purposes of the Rules.

The SEC and CFTC clarified in the adopting release that the Rules do not create any additional identity theft program requirements beyond those already imposed by rules adopted by other federal agencies (including the Federal Trade Commission (the “FTC”)), and do not expand the scope of such rules. Nonetheless, the application of the “financial institution” and “transaction account” definitions in the Rules to investment advisers, and the illustrative examples of such terms as applied to investment advisers in the adopting release, may cause certain investment advisers that had previously concluded they were not required to adopt an identity theft prevention program pursuant to other federal agencies’ rules to adopt a red flag program under the Rules.

What are the “Red Flags” of Identity Theft?

The Rules define a red flag as “a pattern, practice, or specific activity that indicates the possible existence of identity theft.” The Rules do not specifically identify relevant red flags, but rather allow covered entities to determine relevant red flags, based on (1) the types of covered accounts offered or maintained; (2) the methods provided to open covered accounts; (3) the methods provided to access covered accounts; and (4) previous experiences with identity theft. Thus, creditors and financial institutions will need to review their databases and security programs to analyze possible points of entry. Creditors and financial institutions will also need to assess: any previous warnings of identity theft; whether competitors have experienced identity theft; whether there has been unusual account activity; and whether consumer reporting agencies have issued any fraud detection alerts. The Rules provide covered entities with a list of several identity theft red flags for consideration. Accordingly, entities should examine the examples provided in the Rules and determine if any apply.

What Type of Program is Required?

Covered entities must institute a written, board-approved identity theft program that provides a means for identifying, detecting, preventing and mitigating theft of their customers’ personal information. More specifically, subject financial institutions and creditors must have a Program that allows them to: (1) identify relevant patterns, practices, and specific activities that are “red flags” signaling possible identity theft and incorporate those red flags into the Program; (2) detect red flags that have been incorporated into the Program; (3) respond appropriately to any red flags that are detected to prevent and mitigate identity theft; and (4) ensure that the Program is updated periodically to reflect changes in risks of identity theft.

The Rules also compel: board approval of the initial written Program; ensuring oversight of the development, implementation and administration of the Program; training for staff; and oversight of any service providers. Covered entities are permitted to tailor their Programs to their operations so long as the Program is appropriate to the size and complexity of the creditor or financial institution and the nature and scope of its activities. Companies should therefore consider the types of customer information stored. If a covered entity maintains background personal information in addition to social security number and bank account information, then the Program must account for the importance of that information and identity thieves’ ability to use it for improper purposes. Companies should further consider how the information is maintained, whether the data is segregated into different databases, whether it is encrypted and how it is encrypted. Analysis and incorporation of relevant existing processes and procedures that control reasonably foreseeable risks to customers’ identity may be useful.

What Oversight is Required over Service Providers?

Organizations that engage service providers must ensure that the providers conduct their activities in accordance with reasonable policies and procedures designed to detect, prevent and mitigate the risk of identity theft. If a third-party service provider loses customers’ personal information, the financial institution may be found to have run afoul of the Rules if it failed to exercise appropriate and effective oversight over the service provider arrangement.


Organizations are encouraged to review the Rules and analyze any processes or procedures currently in place. All organizations present a unique set of customers, security needs and variable risks. The size and scope of an organization and the nature of its business will determine what security measures are appropriate. Taking an objective hard look at your organization is step one in avoiding an enforcement action, ensuring the continued patronage of your customers, and protecting your customers from the very serious risks of identity theft.

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Bethel Employee Charged with Identity Theft, Padding Pay

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

A Bethel woman accused of identity theft and issuing herself extra payroll checks from her employer will be in court next week.

Jennifer Romano, 27, of Deer Run, Bethel, turned herself in to the Bethel Police Department on April 26 on an active warrant for identity theft in the third degree and larceny in the first degree.

The arrest stemmed from an investigation into a complaint made by Romano’s former employer alleging she wrote additional payroll checks to herself in excess of her actual wage.

Romano was processed and released on a surety bond with a court date set for May 7.

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Phone companies alerted to identity theft: Moreland Hills Police Blotter

Monday, April 29th, 2013



IDENTITY THEFT, SOM CENTER ROAD: A former village resident now living in Sherman Oaks, Calif., reported April 19 someone has been opening cell phone accounts in his name, using his old address and applying online through Verizon and Sprint, as well as an unsuccessful attempt through T-Mobile. In clearing up the fraud, the cell phone companies requested there be a police report on file.

DRIVING UNDER SUSPENSION/SPEEDING, CHAGRIN BOULEVARD: A Parma man, 18, was pulled over April 13 shortly before 1 a.m. near Bentleyville Road, where police clocked him driving 54 mph in a 35-mph zone in a van registered to a Cleveland mortuary service. He explained he was on his way to pick up a body in Chagrin Falls, but police noted he had a “non-compliance” license suspension, which prohibited him from driving. He then called two co-workers in the area to come pick him — and the van — up.

GUN SHOTS, DEER RUN: A resident reported the afternoon of April 20 he had heard five or six shots fired from what sounded like a small caliber handgun, to the north of him, possibly in Hunting Valley.

SUSPICION, CHAGRIN RIVER ROAD: A resident reported hearing a dog barking, then a chainsaw going, and then what sounded like a tree falling from a wooded area on the evening of April 21. Police said they found nothing.

See more Moreland Hills news at

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FOX6 Investigators: ID theft kept secret by IRS

Monday, April 29th, 2013

PRINCETON (WITI) – Home loans denied. Their credit trashed.  And a Wisconsin couple had no idea why it was all happening. But the Federal Government did.

Nearly two hours from Milwaukee, the tiny community of Princeton — population 1,214 — is the kind of place where people go to get away from big city problems.  But identity theft is a crime that knows no bounds.

“This is a crime where our federal government, if somebody is using your social security number, it`s okay,” said Debi Guenterberg.

Three days a week, Guenterberg runs an antique furniture store.

But for the past six years, she’s spent countless hours trying to repair the damage caused by two men who took the key to her husband’s identity.


Robert Guenterberg was a victim of identity theft for years without knowing it, even though the IRS knew the whole time.

His social security number.

“Thank God I’ve got her to do all this,” said Robert Guenterberg.  “Because there’s no way I could’ve gathered all this information.”

Robert doesn’t say much., but make no mistake.  He’s angry about all the trouble it’s caused.  A half-built house on the couple’s rural Green County lot stands as a testament to the home loan that was inexplicably denied. Then, there were the mysterious credit card bills. And the line of credit for a new Ford truck.

‘He couldn`t get one, because the social was already used,” Debi said. “But they don`t tell you that.  They just deny you the loan.  And you’re like, ‘What?’” Debi Guenterberg said.

None of it made any sense, until March of 2007, when a bill collector called and told Robert Guenterberg that two men in the Chicago area were using his Social Security Number.


Cornelio Suarez used Robert Guenterberg’s Social Security Number to secure three home loans, three vehicles, bank accounts and more.

In fact, one of the men — Cornelio Suarez — had been using it since at least 1999, when he bought a house near Cicero. He bought another one in Franklin Park, IL, in 2003. And a third home in Addison, IL, in 2005. Suarez also used the number to secure credit for a Ford Expedition, a Ford Explorer and Ford E-150 van.

And the Guenterberg’s say both Suarez and another man used Robert’s social to get credit cards, insurance coverage, drivers licenses, cell phones and medical care.

But that’s not what upsets them the most.

“Our federal agencies have known for years that this is going on,” Debi Guenterberg said.

That’s right.  Both the IRS and Social Security Administration have known since at least 2001 that Cornelio Saurez and Enrique Jiminez were earning income using an invalid social security number. Invalid, because it belongs to someone else.

But the IRS never told Robert Guenterberg what was happening.  Because tax records in the United States are private.  Even the tax records of an identity thief.

“In our country, criminals have privacy rights,” Debi said.  “I can`t think of another crime. I tried. I laid in bed last night tossing and turning and thinking of any other criminal activity would you get privacy and protection? No, no, you don`t.”

So she had to investigate on her own.

Cornelio Suarez was convicted of identity theft, then later released because the state couldn't prove he knew the SSN he was using belonged to a real person.

Cornelio Suarez was convicted of identity theft, then later released because the state couldn’t prove he knew the SSN he was using belonged to a real person.

She won’t say how, but Debi obtained hundreds of pages of financial information about the men using her husband’s personal information, including records from the IRS Master File. A fact that earned her a call from the White House.

“They said I was guilty of two felonies, I violated these men`s privacy rights,” Debi said.

That’s right.  The feds were threatening to charge her.

“I was adamant and I said, `Do it. Charge me, I don`t care.  You know, that ought to get on national news.’  We`re trying to get on national news.  It`s like, you want the whole nation to know this is happening.  This isn`t just happening in Wisconsin this is happening everywhere.”

Debi was never charged.

Instead, she finally convinced prosecutors in Illinois to go after Cornelio Saurez.

In 2007, he was indicted for identity theft..  Three years later, he was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison.

But the decision was reversed in 2011, because the state couldn’t prove Suarez knew the social security number belonged to a real person.

“He was vindicated and set free. We have it in here. Now he’s free,” Debi said.

He didn’t go far.

After Suarez was released from prison, the Guenterberg’s lost track of him.  But the FOX6 Investigators tracked him down in Maywood, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.

polcyn confronts Cornelio

FOX6 Investigator Bryan Polcyn talks to Suarez outside his Maywood, Illinois, home.

“You used his social security number to buy cars and houses and get jobs and he has been dealing with this for years,” said FOX6 Investigator Bryan Polcyn.

“No, no that`s not true,” said Cornelio Suarez.  “I used them for work. Just to, like, bring food to my family.”

Suarez claims he only used Robert Guenterberg’s social security number …not his name.

“I use my name, I no use his name and everything.  I was paying my bills.  I pay my bills and not like regular people like do. I do not do bad things to nobody,” Suarez said.

In other words, Suarez doesn’t think he did anything wrong.

Congressman Tom Petri of Oshkosh disagrees.

“The Guenterberg`s suffered an injustice that ought to be corrected,” Petri said.

But the injustice Petri is referring to is one inflicted by the government.  In February, he introduced a bill that would require the IRS to notify taxpayers when someone else uses their social security number.

“I guess their first job is collecting taxes, but to say that they can`t notify someone when they know someone else is using their SSN.  It can`t be that complicated,” Petri said.

There is a complicating factor. You might call it the “elephant” in the room. The polarizing issue of illegal immigration.

“It is wrong for our federal government to know about it and do nothing about it because they are afraid politically it is going to do some damage,” Debi Guenterberg said.

When Petri first introduced his so-called “Social Security Identity Defense Act” in 2010, it had bi-partisan support.  He introduced it again in 2011, again with a pair of Democrats as co-sponsors.  This is now his third try, but so far, there are just six co-sponsors. All Republicans.

“‘Why?  This is something to help everyone!” Debi said.

“I don`t think it is a particularly partisan issue. Republicans and Democrats all have social security numbers,” Petri said.

Another Republican, U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, agreed to meet with the Guenterberg’s last month.

Guenterberg's meet with U.S. Senator Ron Johnson

Robert and Debi Guenterberg meet with U.S. Senator Ron Johnson

But the Guenterberg’s know, if they truly want to see change in Washington, there’s a long road still ahead of them.

“I don’t care.  This is wrong.  This is absolutely wrong,” Debi Guenterberg said.

The IRS maintains that it cannot tell you who is using your social security number or how.  But it can tell taxpayers simply that someone has fraudulently used their Social Security Number.

In 2008, the IRS created a new program to flag individual taxpayers who are victims of identity theft and send them notification letters.  However, a 2011 audit found the IRS was still failing to notify most identity theft victims.

Since 2011, the IRS tells FOX6 that it has improved its notification process and has doubled the number of employees working identity theft cases.

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You wouldn’t expect this identity theft

Monday, April 29th, 2013

Federal authorities said that victim, a customer at the former Commerce Bank, was among dozens of people who had money stolen or attempted to be stolen from their bank accounts or had credit cards opened in their names by an identity theft ring that operated in the Philadelphia area from about 2006 to 2012.

The ringleader, Lawrence Fudge of Philadelphia, was sentenced last month to 12 years in prison.

Authorities said in a news release that Fudge and others recruited two bank employees and an insurance company employee “to abuse the trust placed in them by their employers and pass on … the bank account and personal information of dozens of victims.”

Other victims were from Berks, Bucks and Montgomery counties. They were identified only by their initials in an affidavit from a postal inspector. The Lehigh County victim did not have money stolen, but the thieves tried to withdraw $3,000 at a New Jersey branch of Commerce Bank using a fake driver’s license in the victim’s name and a withdrawal slip with the victim’s account number, according to the affidavit.

This type of identity theft is scary because there’s nothing you can to do to prevent it. Even scarier is that it’s not uncommon, according to Steven Toporoff, an attorney at the Federal Trade Commission.

He told me no statistics are available, but “some measure of identity theft results from the misuse of information by insiders.”

Toporoff said it’s particularly a problem in the medical community, with hospitals, doctor’s offices and clinics.

“Any company conceivably could have insiders,” said Toporoff, who works in the FTC’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection. “It definitely does happen.”

A Chester County couple were charged last month with paying employees of Community Hospital in Chester and Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Upland, Delaware County, to steal confidential medical forms. Authorities allege the couple used patients’ identities to file fake tax returns and collect illegitimate tax refunds.

Also last month, a former mail room clerk at the IRS center in Philadelphia was sentenced to two years in jail for stealing the personal information of a taxpayer and opening credit card accounts in the taxpayer’s name.

“All the places that have your Social Security number, all present potential of identity theft,” said Richard Goldberg, chief of economic crimes at the U.S. attorney’s office in Philadelphia.

He said businesses and institutions are aware of the risk and try to prevent it by screening potential employees and training them. Like Toporoff, Goldberg said it’s hard to gauge the extent of that type of identity theft.

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Savvy Senior: How to avoid identity theft when you travel

Monday, April 29th, 2013

What tips can you recommend to help retirees guard against identity theft when traveling? My sister and her husband had their identity stolen while on vacation last year, and I want to make sure I’m protecting myself on my trip to Europe next month.

Most people don’t realize that when you travel, your risk of identity theft increases. Here are a few simple steps you can take to protect yourself while you’re away.

Alert your credit-card companies: Before you leave, let them know when, where and how long you’ll be traveling. This helps their fraud departments stop bogus charges if your card is used where you’re not. And it reduces the risk that your card will be frozen when you use it far from home.

Secure your mail: Get a friend or neighbor to pick up your mail every day while you’re gone, or stop your mail at the post office. A full mailbox can be very inviting to identity thieves and burglars. Also, stop the newspaper, and don’t broadcast your travel plans on social networking websites.

Clean out your wallet: Pickpockets love tourist destinations, so take only essential identifiers, like your driver’s license, and just two credit cards — carry one with you, and lock the other one in a hotel room safe in case your wallet gets stolen. Also, don’t ever carry your Social Security card in your wallet, and leave your checkbook home, too.

It’s also a good idea to make copies of your plane tickets, hotel reservations, passport, driver’s license and credit cards, and leave them with a friend or relative whom you can call in an emergency. And make a list of contact numbers of your credit card providers so you can call them if your pocket gets picked.

Protect your smartphone: These are gold mines for ID thieves. If you use a smartphone, protect your personal information by using the security settings to lock your screen with a password. Then install a GPS location tracking app on your phone, such as “Where’s My Droid” for Android devices, or if you’re an iPhone user, activate the built-in “Find My iPhone” app. You can also set up your phone so that if it does get stolen, you can remotely erase its data. Your wireless carrier may offer this service, and many security apps include this feature.

Use safe ATMs: If you need cash while you’re away, use ATMs that are located at banks. These are more secure than stand-alone ATMs that can be rigged to capture your card information that thieves can steal.

Safeguard your hotel: Never leave your wallet, passport, credit cards or other valuables lying around your hotel room. Either keep them with you or lock them in the hotel safe. And if you have a laptop computer or tablet, get a locking device that lets you lock it to something fixed in the room. You local computer store can help you with this.

Be careful with hotel computers and free Wi-Fi networks: Don’t access your personal accounts or disclose any of your financial information on hotel or other public computers or on public Wi-Fi networks. You never know what identity-stealing software is at work.

Freeze your credit: A temporary freeze denies access to your credit history, so ID thieves can’t open accounts in your name while you’re away, but it doesn’t stop you from using your credit card. To set up a freeze, contact each of the three credit bureaus: Equifax (, (800) 685-1111), Experian (, (888) 397-3742) and TransUnion (, (800) 680-7289. It typically costs about $10 per credit bureau to freeze your account, and $10 to unfreeze it. If you will be gone for an extended time, this is a good extra protection.

Jim Miller is editor of the Savvy Senior. Send your senior questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit

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Hot Line: Identity theft tops list of FTC’s complaints

Monday, April 29th, 2013

Identity theft was the most complained about problem to the Federal Trade Commission last year, its recent newsletter said. No less than 369,132 complaints were about identity theft.

Con artists are experts at getting your Social Security number, birth date, and other information to steal your identity. We’ve seen mail telling people they’ve won money and they have to give the information to collect the prize. Some people believe it.

Other crooks call on the phone, often targeting elderly people who reportedly are the most trusting. Some scammers aim at teenagers who haven’t lived long enough to spot a con artist.

(A previous Hot Line column told about scientists’ discovery of the “gullible spot” in the prefrontal cortex of the brain that hasn’t developed completely in the young and has begun to deteriorate in the old. This makes them more likely to believe whatever they are told and they tend to cooperate with the cons and give them whatever information they ask for.)

We urge people to be constantly cautious whether at home or away in guarding information about their identities.

Other common complaints to the FTC in 2012 involved debt collection, banks and lenders, prize awards in false sweepstakes and lotteries, relative or friend in distress, Internet services, vehicle-related complaints, telephone and cell phone problems and credit cards.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To get information about scams or to file a complaint in English or Spanish, call 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357). Online, visit

Some readers notify Hot Line when they are contacted by someone they know must be a con artist trying to get information to steal their identities.

“Please warn people about a scam supposedly from the IRS about back taxes,” an alert Uhrichsville reader wrote Hot Line. “A woman calls on the phone. She never asks for anybody. She starts out saying her name is Sharon, and ‘I’m from the IRS, and I want to talk to you about taxes you owe.’ I haven’t worked for many years,” our reader’s letter continued, “and even if I owed those taxes, they would have notified me by mail. I know it’s a scam. I’ve had three calls from this person and now one today.”

Our reader knew that if she spoke to the caller, she would be asked for “identification” or “to be sure we have the right person, we need to know … “and she would be asked for her Social Security number, birth date and anything else that would help the caller use her identity.

Her letter made Hot Line happy. If everyone could identify a con game as this woman did, the scammers would go out of business.


An email to Hot Line asked a question: “You mentioned in your column that somebody called you. I would like to know how they got your telephone number.”

They looked in the phone book.

Anna Lee Brendza is The Times-Reporter’s consumer columnist. Contact her by writing Hot Line, The Times-Reporter, Box 667, New Philadelphia 44663 or emailing

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