Identity theft: It's growing in suburbs

Charlotte ranks 127th among metro areas

04/28/2010 12:00 AM

04/28/2010 3:23 PM

Area law enforcement recently gathered to discuss identity theft, considered the fastest growing crime nationwide.

"It's become very high tech and law enforcement - with the limited resources it has - has to keep up with it," said Tom Stone of FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Association, which hosted the April 20 event with identity protection company LifeLock at the Ballantyne Hotel.

North Carolina ranks 21 in overall complaints on identity theft and fraud and Charlotte ranks 127 for all metro areas, according to a 2009 FTC report. The commission reported more than 8,150 identity theft and fraud complaints in Charlotte in 2009.

Mayor Anthony Foxx recently proclaimed April 19-23 as Identity Theft Awareness week to raise awareness about the crime, which keeps CMPD officers "extremely busy," said Captain David Poston of CMPD.

Gone are the days when identity theft simply meant a stolen credit card.

The crime has become more insidious than ever. Without realizing it, individuals can download spyware, which remains dormant until someone from a remote location decides to make use of personal information on a computer.

"It's not an instant crime," Stone said. "Someone can steal your social security number and not use it for five years. You'd never know where it hit you."

Senior Investigator Justin Feffer, who is based out of California, led the seminar and discussed current trends with area law enforcement.

One scam allows store and restaurant employees to scan credit card numbers directly to a personal flash drive.

Another scam is to hack into a person's Twitter account. Thieves will impersonate that individual and claim to be stuck in another country. Then they ask for money from that individual's Twitter followers.

Some of the more high-tech theft tactics are just now appearing in Charlotte, Detective K. M. Stuesse said.

The seminar, which LifeLock and FBI-LEEDA hosts around the country, helps officers discuss information with other police departments, Stone said.

"There's a tremendous networking opportunity here," he said.

CMPD also will use information from the seminar to educate the public in order to prevent more cases of identity theft, said Sgt. Walt Bowling, who oversees the department's Financial Crimes Unit.

Bowling encourages the public to file a report if they suspect they've become a victim.

"You don't usually find the point of compromise but if we can link it to someone else's case, we might have a better chance," he said.

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