Identity theft is a very real problem affecting millions of Americans every year, but in a shocking number of cases, it seems that these crimes might be the work of organized fraud rings.
Today, there are more than 10,000 organized identity theft groups operating in the U.S. alone, according to new data from the security firm ID Analytics. These crime rings generally fall into two categories: Those comprised of two or more career criminals, and those made up largely of families and friends. However, those comprising friends were more common than family enterprises. Where people with the same last name were concerned, many participants even used each others’ personal data.
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One fraud ring studied by the researchers found that a family of five in Florida successfully ran an identity theft operation for more than three years, the report said. In all, they filed more than 130 fraudulent credit applications using eight stolen Social Security numbers and 11 dates of birth to do so.
“In this latest research, we have taken a broader approach, looking at connections among bad people rather than studying individual activity,” said Dr. Stephen Coggeshall, chief technology officer of ID Analytics.
Often, fraud rings operate in a number of different ways to gain access to consumers’ sensitive personal information and commit fraud, the report said. And once they have it, many either use a victim’s date of birth and Social Security number to obtain credit in their own name – essentially manipulating a borrower’s personal data – or more simple identity theft such as using a stolen credit or debit card to make a purchase.
There are several states in which these fraud rings are far more common than others, concentrated mostly in the South, the report said. Alabama, North and South Carolina, Delaware, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas had the highest concentrations of this activity. On a more local level, Washington, D.C.; Tampa, Florida; Greenville, Mississippi; Macon, Georgia; Detroit, Michigan; and Montgomery, Alabama led the way. But while many instances of fraud happen in those major cities, a large amount also took place in rural areas.
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Identity theft can be easy to spot if consumers are vigilant. Checking over monthly statements and regularly ordering copies of their credit reports can help to identify any unrecognized charges or accounts listed in their names.
Image: Capture Queen, via Flickr