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After the crime ...

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By Calen McKinney

It started when they were buying a new car. They went to the car dealership, traded their current vehicle and completed an application for a loan.

They later found out that the loan officer kept their Social Security number, posed as the customers and purchased another vehicle.

"It was a bad deal," Ron Wise, vice president and loan officer at United Citizens Bank, said.

While the situation actually happened in another town, Wise said, the person involved was from Taylor County, one in a growing number of identity theft victims.

"It took a long time to straighten out," he said. "More than a year."

Wise says he hasn't seen any identity theft incidents at his bank lately, though Taylor County Bank President and CEO Henry Lee says scams originating from other countries have recently attempted to steal personal information from Taylor County residents.

Wise says identity theft can happen when a person takes another person's Social Security number, credit or debit card number or other information and applies for an additional credit card.

"Then it snowballs," he said. "And it [may] take a while before you discover it.

"There are so many things [people] can do with a Social Security number, a credit card number, a checking account number."

Lee agrees.

"They can get that information and they can pose as you."

Wise says identity theft can compromise a person's credit score, which is used when applying for loans and during other financial transactions.

"So many things today are tied to credit score."

Not only does identity theft affect a person's credit score, Wise said, it can take several years to investigate, prosecute and repair a victim's credit.

"It's a long, drawn-out process," he said.

Lee says identity theft may happen more often than in the past because of the advancement of technology.

"People use cash less and less," he said. "At a restaurant, we give a waitress our credit card."

While Lee says it's possible for people's identities to be stolen locally, scams today can originate from other countries, such as recent attempts from Amsterdam and Chile to steal Taylor County residents' information.

"It's a worldwide problem," he said.

Lee said people may get a phone call with a recording asking to confirm certain financial and account information.

"People will do that," he said. "Never give out [financial information] unless you're 100 percent sure.

"They're not going to call you in the middle of the night."

To help prevent identity theft, Wise said, he urges residents to take advantage of the fact that they are entitled to one free credit report each year from www.annualcreditreport.com.

He says one way to be proactive in catching possible identity theft situations is to monitor these annual credit reports and investigate any suspicious activity.

Wise says people can also place flags on their credit reports that a possible identity theft situation has been detected. These flags, he said, can be used to require that a person be contacted before any of the person's information is used for any type of transaction.

Another way to possibly prevent identity theft, Wise says, is to purchase a shredder to get rid of any papers that contain personal information.

"[People] can go through trash," he said.

Lee says he believes identity theft insurance is extremely important in combating possible theft.

"It's as important as any insurance you could have," he said. "As important as life or car insurance."

Identity theft insurance helps the victims of identity theft recover money stolen and restore their credit.

Lee says victims of identity theft have to react quickly and be sure to contact all of their financial institutions.

"Contact credit card companies," he said.

It's a good idea to have credit card customer service phone numbers and other contact information handy, Lee said.

"You've got to get on the ball really, really quickly because you're responsible."

Lee said people should also pay attention to workers when they are using your debit or credit card to pay for a purchase.

"You have to be vigil," he said. "Make sure you know who you're talking to and who is walking away with your credit card."

Taylor County Sheriff's Deputy Aaron Walters says identity theft isn't often reported to the sheriff's office, but when it is, it usually involves a person's family member or some type of forgery.

"It's easy to do it," he said. "[People can] get someone's mail or go through their garbage."

Campbellsville Police Chief Dennis Benningfield says Campbellsville police are receiving more identity theft reports than in the past because of the increase in technology use.

Benningfield said people today use computers to do their banking and ordering, thus placing personal information on the Internet. Banks have secure Web sites, he said, but hackers sometimes make their way to that information.

He said people today often use debit cards at restaurants and he has received reports of employees taking information from those cards.

Benningfield said he suggests that people who use debit cards make sure the employee doesn't go behind a counter with the card or write anything down while in possession of the card.

When someone thinks they have been the victim of identity theft, Benningfield said, they should first determine whether they really have. To do that, he suggested, they should check their bank accounts and credit card statements carefully for any unauthorized transactions. Victims should contact their banks and credit card companies and check their recent transactions to make sure the discrepancy isn't just a mistake.

If an individual still believes he or she has been a victim, he said, contact law enforcement.

Benningfield said police will interview the person, complete a packet of information and attempt to pinpoint the last legitimate transaction made.

"Then, we'll take it from there and see where it leads," he said.

Benningfield said identity theft investigations can take a long time because it's often difficult to track down paper trails.

Victims should also call credit card companies and tell them to stop activity on their accounts, he said.

Walters said Kentucky law states that identity theft is a Class D felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

According to Kentucky law, a person commits identity theft when they use another person's identification, including their name, address, phone number, birth date, telephone number, Social Security and credit and debit card information, to deprive another person of any form of property.

For example, Walters said, this could happen when a person says they are actually someone else in order to prevent being served with an arrest warrant.

To prevent identity theft, Walters said, he recommends not giving out a Social Security number unless absolutely necessary and shredding as many financial records as possible.

Benningfield suggests contacting the three credit bureaus - Experian, TransUnion and Equifax - if you think you have been the victim of identity theft.

He says Campbellsville Police has a packet of information and forms available for possible victims to speed up the investigation into the theft.

Unfortunately, he said, many scams are done in other countries, making identity theft a crime that can be hard - if not impossible - to prosecute.

"Take every means necessary to protect your identity," he said.

Lee says his advice to preventing identity theft is simple.

"Just be smart," he said.

Tips for victims of identity theft

The Kentucky Office of the Attorney General offers these tips for those who think they have been the victim of identity theft.

Some things to do immediately:

u Act quickly to minimize the damage. Keep good notes of all conversations with financial institutions and law enforcement agencies.

u Report ID theft to major credit bureaus. Ask that a "fraud alert" be placed in your file.

u File a police report. Get a copy of the report. Credit card companies and financial institutions may require a copy to verify the crime.

u Close any accounts that have been fraudulently accessed or opened.

u Obtain a copy of your credit report. Victims of identity theft should obtain a copy of their credit report and monitor activity every few months.

u Contest bills that result from identity theft.

u Access information of fraudulent accounts. Obtain a copy of the application used and a record of transactions or charges associated with that account.

For more information and tips on identity theft, visit the Attorney General's Web site at ag.ky.gov/consumer/identity/tips.htm.

u Staff Writer Calen McKinney can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 235 or by e-mail at reporter@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.