Last year there were 279,000 reports of identity theft. There have been an estimated 10 million victims each year for 12 straight years. Consumers that are not concerned about identity theft generally do not understand what identity theft is. With this weekend’s familiar headlines such as, “Credit Card Breach affects 10 million Cardholders,” it is not hard to understand why many consumers associate identity theft with credit card fraud instead of the more insidious types of identity theft.
Last week I was told three painful stories of an uglier side of identity theft where the victims bear all the costs—financial and emotional. Here are the abbreviated stories all from Wisconsin.
A young man from La Crosse, Wisconsin recalled how he spent time in jail after the license plate from his car was stolen. The license plate was used on the thief’s vehicle, and the plate was caught on a gas station surveillance video after the thief filled the tank and sped away without payment.
One might call this vehicle identity theft because the identity of the vehicle was stolen. As with any type of stolen or forged license or identification, the records often trace back to a real human victim. When a crime is committed in the name of the victim of ID theft, the victim can spend hours or days in police custody and jail until the fraud is sorted out by police. It is always possible that the case does not get resolved and the victim does time for the crime another person committed. The young man spent an untold number of hours sorting out the crime with law enforcement.
Midweek I received a desperate phone call for help from a woman in the Fox Valley Region of Wisconsin. After being turned down for many jobs and apartment rentals, she became suspicious that a previous identity theft incident was keeping her from getting a job offer and renting an apartment. She was tipped off when one person referred to her “record.”
Some years ago law enforcement stopped a vehicle and searched it and the passengers. One of the passengers had unidentified medications in her purse, which the police confiscated. The woman did not have any identification, and she gave the police a former high school classmate’s name and fictitious address. The police later determined that the confiscated substance was cocaine. Although the identity thief was not apprehended, a warrant was issued for her arrest.
The victim of the identity theft learned about the situation and thought she resolved the mistaken identity issue and drug charges with law enforcement and the district attorney’s office. Today the drug charge against her remains on various public records, which affects her ability to obtain housing and a job.
How often do people give false identification when encountered by law enforcement? A few recent incidences in Madison, Wisconsin include a man who identified himself to a police officer as Alex. Alex then fled the scene of the traffic stop. Henry Geoffrey Charlton, or Alex, was later arrested and charged with several crimes and traffic violations including obstructing a police officer and possession of heroin.
A Dane County Sheriff’s Deputy observed and stopped a vehicle with a suspended license plate. The driver did not have identification and gave a false name. The man agreed to have the deputy follow him to his home to produce identification. When they arrived at his home, the man’s mother identified him as Luis A Celeya-Hernandez, which was not the name given by the man when the deputy stopped him. The deputy learned that Celeya-Hernandez had a warrant for his arrest. He was arrested and charged with several crimes and traffic violations.
When Madison Police booked Robert Gallardo Borja into the Dane County, Wisconsin jail last February for drunk driving, they learned that his fingerprints showed he was someone else. The man presented identification bearing the name of Borja. Fingerprints showed he was Jorge Victor Ramos Santarosa who faces his third alleged drunk driving offense.
These are examples of where law enforcement was able to discern that the suspect falsely identified him or herself. When law enforcement cannot make that determination there is often an innocent person who has to face the consequences of criminal identity theft.
A Milwaukee mother received a phone call from law enforcement explaining some of the alleged crimes her son committed while he was employed in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The mother listened attentively, and told the officer that her son was with her, and she would get him to come to the telephone. The officer was relieved to locate the alleged crook and gain the cooperation of the mother. The mother said, “there is just one thing you should know, my son is 11 years old.”
Child identity theft affects an estimated 140,000 children every year. In a previous article we reviewed a story of child identity theft that took place in Brookfield, Wisconsin.
These identity theft incidences directly affected the victims. Tens of thousands of these stories go untold each year. The stories that are news are often the data breaches involving large corporations, many of which never result in identity theft. Those few data breaches that result in identity theft are often resolved with a phone call to the financial institutions responsible for the credit cards. Data breaches can cost financial institutions and other businesses tens of millions of dollars to resolve but more often than not they do not cost cost the victims anything. Although, all consumers pay for the cost of data breaches and any misuse of the credit cards by paying higher prices for goods and services. Identity theft costs American consumers and businesses over $50 billion each year.
What about the three victims of identity theft discussed in this article? Who pays for time spent in jail, the humiliation, the blemish on their character, the attorney fees required to clear their name, their inability to gain employment and housing, and the emotional trauma that identity theft had, is having and will continue to have on their life.
Anyone not concerned about identity theft does not know what identity theft is. They are confusing identity theft with bank and credit card fraud.
What headline do you remember from last week? “Banks Alerted to Massive Card Breach” or the untold stories of a man, a woman, and a child from Wisconsin.