Identity Theft: Reports Soar in Collier, Lee As New Technology Aids Thieves POLLS

  • 26 February 2011 |



Naples Daily News

Posted February 26, 2011 at 6 p.m.

NAPLES — Technology continues to make life easier — for thieves.

Take the newer generation credit cards or keyless entry IDs given to employees. They may be equipped with radio frequency chips that make transactions and entry into buildings faster.


They also make transferring personal information easier for anyone who buys a $50 scanning device online.

With it, someone can walk into a crowd and capture personal information from anyone who walks close enough.

But don’t try to keep up with the technology, law enforcement officials said.

“It’s limited to the imagination of the criminal,” said Dave Couvertier, FBI spokesman for the Naples and Fort Myers area.

Reports of identity theft in Collier and Lee counties have soared, according to Federal Trade Commission data provided to Scripps Howard News Service and the Daily News.

In 2009, 814 complaints were filed, up 33 percent from 611 in 2005.

Cape Coral’s 33914 ZIP code saw the most complaints with 158 followed closely by Bonita Springs’ 34135 with 151.

But no area is untouched. From Marco Island and Naples to Golden Gate Estates and Immokalee, victims of identity theft span every region with more than 3,800 complaints filed in five years.

Of those, 800 related to credit cards, either opening new cards in someone else’s name or attempting to charge items to an existing account.

It’s the most common complaint in Collier County, according to Sgt. David White, supervisor of the economic crimes unit for the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. And the preferred method of getting personal information is called skimming.

It could work like this: You hand your credit card to a restaurant server and before she swipes your card at the register, she passes it through another device that captures your information. You’re none the wiser until your next month’s statement and your card has been cloned and used anywhere in the world.

Another common identity theft crime in Collier and Lee counties is employment, tax or wage fraud, where someone lifts another person’s identity to land a job, start utilities services or claim another person’s tax refund.

More than 18 percent of complaints to the Federal Trade Commission, about 700 in the 5-year period, involved these types of theft.

“You have to have a Social Security number,” White said, “and if you’re here illegally you can just borrow someone else’s.”

Stacey Payne, Lee County Sheriff’s Office community relations manager, monitors complaints and said one of the growing trends in identity theft will involve smart phones.

“I don’t think we’ve even touched the iceberg yet,” Payne said.

These phones don’t yet have protective software like computers do.

People download apps from unknown developers that could embed malicious software in the phone, she said, scoring private details such as passwords and bank information.

Additionally, the surge in popularity of social networking sites and peoples’ growing willingness to publish private information online has made would-be thieves happy, the FBI’s Couvertier said.

Criminals follow individuals online and build profiles. If they find out where someone lives, they go to the garbage can and start pulling valuable documents such as preapproved credit card applications.

There are as many tips to protect identity as there are ways to steal it, but sometimes, there’s little that can be done.

“Even when you build your firewalls and use antivirus software and set the highest security parameters you can, a lot of times our personal information is in the hands of third parties,” Couvertier said.

Schools and the doctors may require your Social Security number when it’s often not needed, he said.

“We just get used to ‘That’s the way we do business,’” he said, so we give our Social Security number to almost anyone.

If the statistics mean anything, your chances for being faced with identity theft are increasing.

The FBI maintains the Internet Crime Complaint Center, which is a clearinghouse for reporting online crimes, including identity theft.

Nationally, the number of reported crimes dipped 9.8 percent in 2010 from 2009, but the number of identity thefts among those crimes increased 6.2 percent.

More than 50,000 identity theft complaints were filed in 2010 compared with more than 47,000 in 2009. In Florida in 2010, the center received nearly 22,000 complaints. Some 2,000 were identity theft.

If the unthinkable does happen and a person realizes they’ve become a victim, they need to contact their financial institutions and file a police report, said Lt. John Barkley of the Naples Police Department.

“You really have to take the bull by the horns and do it yourself,” he said.

But there is still much work to be done once a crime is reported, said Lee County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Keith Day, of the economic crimes unit.

“The anonymity of the crime, the jurisdictional challenges and the lack of cooperation with law enforcement investigations from some of the private financial institutions are all big hurdles to overcome investigating these crimes,” he said.

And even more challenges come with attempts to prosecute, said Dean Plattner, an assistant state attorney who supervises the economic prosecutions for Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Glades and Hendry counties.

“It’s one thing to know something happened, or suspect something happened,” Plattner said. “But that’s just the beginning of the case, not the end. We need to know who, where, when, how and have evidence to bring to court to prove it.”

While there’s no surefire way to prevent identity theft, Couvertier said, there are definitely steps to take to protect yourself.

“Instead of worrying about every potential opportunity,” he said, “just have a general awareness of how these things happen, how they occur. If you start taking steps, you’ll reduce the chances of becoming a victim.”

Last modified on Tuesday, 21 April 2015 10:05
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