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Identity theft criminals can steal lives

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Aug. 13, 2002) -- Air Force members need to be cautious with personal information, said agents from the Air Force Office of Special Investigations headquarters at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

Information, including Social Security number, bank account and credit card numbers, account passwords, telephone numbers and addresses, are collected by some criminals to commit fraud.

Of primary concern to the AFOSI is identity theft, a crime in which a criminal gathers personal information about a person, through theft or by the victim volunteering such information. The criminal then uses that information to apply for loans or credit cards, or uses the victim's credit card numbers to make unauthorized purchases.

When a person's identity is stolen, the damage done to credit and financial histories can be immeasurable and extremely difficult to repair, especially when dealing with creditors who want the person to pay for things he or she may never have bought.

"You have to be very quick to remedy the situation once you realize your identity has been stolen," said AFOSI Special Agent Tom Mulconry. "They become you. Anything they do reflects on your credit. They can charge up all kinds of bills, and they don't have to pay, but you do. You say (to creditors), 'I didn't make those charges,' but they show you, 'It says Joe Blow here. Aren't you Joe Blow? If that's your (Social Security number), and that's your address, then it's you.'"

Criminals committing identity theft both lie and steal to get information.

In a recent scam, perpetrators faxed or e-mailed phony Internal Revenue Service forms to potential victims asking for personal data. According to an IRS press release, one such phony form is labeled "W-9095, Application Form for Certificate Status/Ownership for Withholding Tax." The form requests personal data frequently used to prove identity, including passport number and mother's maiden name. It also asks for sensitive financial data such as bank account numbers, passwords and personal identification numbers that can be used to gain access to the accounts.

"Whatever the ploy is, their ultimate goal is to solicit that type of information from you," said Special Agent Rob Shilaikis.

While it is true a person can become a victim of identity theft through his or her own carelessness, Air Force people can become victims through other people's carelessness as well.

"What makes Air Force members sometimes more susceptible is that sometimes duty rosters or alpha rosters can be mishandled, or taken for private use, and can be sold to people who want to propagate these types of crimes," said Special Agent Kevin Chen. "Lots of times all the information you need to steal somebody's identity can be found on an alpha roster or a recall roster."

The AFOSI uses education as a preventative measure to help keep Air Force members from falling victim to identity theft.

"What we try to do is to put this information out there," Shilaikis said. "If somebody is trying to solicit your (Social Security) or bank account numbers, or any personal information, don't give it to them. You have to verify who these people are that are contacting you."

Additionally, information security is important to protecting one's own identity and the identities of others, Mulconry said. A misplaced alpha roster at work, or failure to shred important paperwork before throwing it in the trash, may cause real trouble, he said.

"Get a home shredder, they are inexpensive," Mulconry said. "Shred anything that has a Social Security or bank number on it."