Naperville police and other area law enforcement agents had an up-close and personal lesson in identity theft this week.
Participants were given real-life case information that put into perspective exactly how these criminals pull off their schemes and scams through a two-day training seminar at the Aurora Police Department, presented courtesy of the FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Association and LifeLock, an identity theft protection service.
The Federal Trade Commission reports that Illinois ranks 11th nationally for identity theft. Almost 13,000 identity theft complaints were lodged in 2012.
According to LifeLock, Illinois’ top three identity theft types include credit card fraud, phone or utility fraud, and government documents/benefits fraud.
“ID theft is one of the fastest growing crimes,” said program coordinator Mark Sullivan. “People ask, ‘How do I keep myself from becoming a victim?’ The answer is, I don’t know. That changes every day. The tools criminals use, the means in which they extract information, that all changes. We are telling these (attendees) how it’s done and what to look for.”
Monday and Tuesday’s seminar was the FBI association’s 139th presentation in five years. More than 9,000 officers have experienced the hands-on class, aimed at helping them detect and investigate identity theft crimes.
Naperville police joined officers from Aurora, Oak Park, Barrington, the FBI, the DuPage and DeKalb County Sheriff’s Departments, and other local agencies participating in the free seminar.
“We don’t like to have a class like this just to scare people,” said instructor Justin Feffer, who works as a supervising investigator with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. But, Feffer did open the eyes of officers to just how easy information can be pilfered using the right tools.
Skimming devices that are used to extract personal credit card and account information from consumers were demonstrated to officers, who then were asked to scan their personal cards on Feffer’s device.
In an instant, seemingly secure account information became Feffer’s for the taking. Skimmers are small electronic devices that can be placed over the card slot of an ATM or handheld credit card device. From 2008 to 2010, the number of skimming cases reported to the Secret Service grew by 10 percent each year, according to LifeLock. The total annual loss of ATM and credit card skimming is $8 billion.
Skimming is just one of many ways criminals can obtain someone’s personal information. Thieves can steal your mail, or change your address so they simply receive your mail themselves. They can use text messaging and phone calling to scam unsuspecting residents into handing over their personal information.
“This is your chance to get hands-on experience you can use to develop your expertise,” Feffer told the officers. “You can say, ‘I know how they do it, because I have done it.’”
Using equipment he purchased off the Internet, equipment anyone has the ability to buy and use, Feffer demonstrated how easily personal information can be compromised.
He talked about cases he has investigated in California that resulted in finding 180,000 credit card numbers and information stored on a computer.
“It is super easy to copy this information,” he said. Criminals will affix the skimmers to gas station pumps or ATMs, and consumers will never be aware that their information has been stolen until fraudulent purchases are already made.
“Banks rely on magnetic strips for security, but it’s not really that safe,” he said.
Feffer showed actual photos from cases he has worked to help local law enforcement agents identify what an identity theft suspect might have in his or her possession. Credit card scanners, embossers, tippers and blank cards are all things to keep an eye out for, as well as stolen data that can be found stored on a computer’s hard drive.
“It’s not a reality to stop using credit cards,” said Paige Hanson, manager of educational programs at LifeLock. “You need to make sure you are checking your statements and reporting any fraudulent activity within 60 days.”
Hanson said it is wise to not have credit card accounts set up to be automatically paid, because it often prevents people from closely examining their purchases.
“Once you pay that bill, you are saying, all of these charges are mine,” she said.
To prevent identity theft, LifeLock suggests consumers keep an eye on their credit scores, make sure to look for a security seal and https in the URL when online shopping, strengthen passwords, avoid sharing personal information, shred documents, guard your mail and to stay alert for scammers.