Identity Theft

Another Place You Could Become an Identity Theft Victim: Court

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A former county court clerk in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., pleaded guilty to identity theft Monday, saying she used her work computer to steal people’s personal information while she worked at the traffic and misdemeanor division in the Broward County courthouse.

Porscha Kyles, 25, sold the information, including drivers’ names, birthdates and Social Security numbers, to an unidentified person who filed fraudulent tax returns, according to a report in the Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Of the nearly 370,000 identity-theft complaints fielded by the Federal Trade Commission in 2012, the most common complaint was tax fraud, and Florida generated the most complaints by far. In fact, the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach metro area had the highest rate of identity theft among all U.S. metropolitan statistical areas. Nine of the top 10 areas for identity theft complaints are in Florida, to be precise.

Identity theft is a crime of desperation and opportunity, sometimes a combination of both. For people whose jobs give them access to personal information — like government, law enforcement and healthcare — it can almost be too easy to steal.

Of course, organizations that handle sensitive information often monitor it closely, which helps uncover fraud. That’s what happened in Kyles’ case: She was fired in May after she was found to be excessively accessing the database of personal information. She faces up to five years in prison and will be sentenced Jan. 9.

While there are many precautions consumers can take to protect their identities, like using the Internet responsibly and never sharing personal information, situations like the one in the Broward County courthouse are beyond consumer control. But there are ways for individuals to minimize damage when a trusted employee goes rogue.

By regularly monitoring bank accounts, credit scores and credit reports, individuals can spot unusual activity and report it to credit bureaus and law enforcement. Signs of identity theft include receiving collection calls for debts you’ve never heard of, receiving merchandise at your home that you haven’t purchased, seeing your credit scores suddenly plummet and noticing incorrect personal information on your credit reports.

In addition to checking bank accounts and mail from day to day, consumers can take advantage of their government-mandated free annual credit report from each major credit bureau, and they can review their credit scores on a monthly basis for free using a tool like Credit.com’s Credit Report Card. Good habits and a watchful eye can make the difference between catching fraud and experiencing financial disaster: In Kyles’ case, there were at least 10 victims, amounting to a total loss between $120,000 and $200,000.

Image: iStock

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