Food For Thought
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Could Anyone Steal Your Identity?
Thus Ruining Your Life
March, 1997
by columnist
David Lawrence Dewey

"Reading provides knowledge...
knowledge leads to answers."
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According to one major nationwide bank, identity theft rose 360% in 1996 and is continuing to grow rapidly. This problem is definitely not something to take lightly.

Sam, 44, from Nebraska wrote, "I can't believe that it is that easy for someone to steal your identity, not with all the security measures in place, social security identification and so forth."

Sam's comments is somewhat typical of how most Americans view the safety of their identity and of their personal information. However, the keeping of records by everyone from banks to schools using the social security number is one of the main problems, not only to this but other information theft. And here is the kicker, do you know that if you steal someone's identity or information, that it is not a federal crime, and most felons are getting off with only a slap on the wrist by the court system. And that in all fifty states, the court systems do not recognize the victims of this crime as a crime victim, thus preventing any charges being brought against the person stealing the information.

Case in point. Bob Hartle was not a felon or fugitive. Hartle's life was turned upside down in 1994 when he discovered that someone was using his name to open credit accounts totaling over $100,000. Yes, folks, $100,000. For months he tried fighting back, writing to creditors he discovered in this fraud, explaining the situation, instead most demanded payment from him. And the sad thing is, if he wanted to clear his credit report, he would have to pay these fraudulent charges. Most of the creditors did not even bother reporting the fraud to authorities. Finally after nearly two long years of fighting this with creditors, the lenders charged the fraudulent debt off, but guess who actually paid for it. The rest of us. In Hartle's case, there was a debt to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for a mobile home, yes folks, the person that stole Hartle's identity was even able to get a loan with HUD using false identification. However, Hud finally charged the debt off.

Credit card debt is at a all time high. Estimates are that 2% are fraudulent charges, over 400 million dollars annually. Good credit worthy Americans are paying for this with higher interest rates, just like homeowners are paying higher interests rates to HUD because of the debt like the Hartle mobile home fraud.

Scott Gilbert, pleaded guilty to the Hartle fraud case in 1995, but not to stealing Hartle's identity, but to procuring firearms fraudulently with a credit card. This was the only federal or state legal charge they could charge him with. The reason, the identity theft was not considered a crime. Gilbert was released in February of 1998, and is still enjoying the benefits of his fraud, he still has the mobile home. By the way, Bob Hartle, the victim is still working seven days a week, two jobs, to pay off the more than $12,000 on legal and moving expenses in his fight against his identify being stolen by Gilbert. Hartle, finally had to move, because despite him proving he was not the person fraudulently charging things in his home town, many did not believe his story. How sad for Hartle, but very ignorant of these people in this town.

Margaret, 55, from Arizona wrote, "I feel very secure that my information is safe, that is why businesses keep information by social security information, only you know your number."

Are you the only one that knows your social security number? Think again! Here are examples of how people steal this information. Don't give your address or phone number when you make a purchase at a store, and especially, do not allow the sales clerk to write down anywhere on the credit card slip your social security number as identification. Don't allow the use of your social security number to be written down on checks for identification. You can fight this legally, I will explain how later. Never, ever give your personal information to anyone over the phone. Tear up those pre-approved credit card applications if you don't apply for them. There are people that actually go through garbage areas, looking for these. They change the addresses, get the cards, and your stuck with the bill. In my opinion even ordering things over the phone using your credit card is risky. You don't know who you are speaking with. Did you know that some corporations, including airlines, employ prisoners in prisons. Corporations have actually set up offices within prisons. States are allowing this to generate cash revenue to pay for prisons. About a year ago, I was booking an airline reservation using a toll-free number. I had heard about this possibility of prison employment before. I asked the person on the telephone if he was in prison. There was dead silence for about 10 seconds and that gave me the answer. I did further research and found it to be true, this airline was employing prisoners, some who had actually been convicted of fraud. Recently, ABC'S PRIME TIME did a complete story on this, try to catch it when it re-runs. A wealth of information. After that I never booked with that airline again.

And Margaret, be thankful you live in Arizona. In 1996, the Arizona Legislature, outraged about the Hartle case, enacted a law making identity theft a crime, thus making it the first state to do so. However, just this last January, California became the second state. Only 48 more states to do. But my question is, why are they not doing something about this in Washington to make this a federal crime?

In case you are not aware of it, there actually is a federal law on the books which prevents the use of the social security number as a means of identification. This was enacted when social security first came into being to protect citizens from a massive government collection of information by the social security number. What a joke. Not only has the government looked the other way, but corporations, banks, credit bureaus, hospitals and the list goes on and on who have used the social security as a means of identification for record keeping. When a sales clerk attempts to write down your social security number on a check, refuse it, explain there is a federal laws that protects you against this type of use of the social security number. By the way, employees of banks, department stores, credit bureaus have been implicated in many identity theft crimes.

Sadly, because this law that should protect us against the use of our social security number for record keeping and reporting identification, it has been largely ignored. Our society has become social security identification dependent. Because of its' deep and vast use, trying to correct this problem would cause such a economic problem in this country, that no government politician is going to enforce the present law or tackle the problem. So, why don't change the original protective law. They can't. It was written in such a way that, that section of the law within the social security enactment can never be changed, deleted, or modified. Interesting isn't it?

Have you checked your credit report lately? You should check your credit report at least once every 2-3 years for errors and to also see you has been looking at your file. Unless you've been turned down for credit, you'll have to pay for this and presently all three credit reporting bureaus are charging $8.00. Here are the toll-free numbers for further information. Equifax, 1-800-685-1111, Experian, 1-800-397-3742, Trans Union, 1-800-888-4213.

Virginia and Clark, 58, from Wisconsin wrote, "Thank you Mr. Dewey for writing about this problem. We were a victim of such a crime four years ago. I wish more journalists would write about the important things."

This problem is more wide spread and damaging. I have just touched the surface. Consumers are paying more products because of this, paying higher interest rates, as much as 2% on their credit cards. My advise, don't give any possible crook the information he needs to steal your identity. The more we refuse the use of our social security number as identification purposes, the better of we will be.

Concerning another area. Who gave the banks, credit unions, department stores, even employers the okay from us to start keeping records using our social security numbers and most disturbingly, who gave permission for these credit bureau agencies to start collecting this information and giving it out to anyone. Do you know that credit bureau's "sell" yours, mine, everyone's credit information to various sources! They sell want you have purchased. Even credit card companies keep track of your purchases to acquire a "purchase" type of identity, and then sell your name to various companies that specialize in those products. This should be outlawed immediately and I urge everyone to write their Senators and Congressmen to enact federal legislation to prevent this. It was found in one case a year ago, a fraudulent company was set up by a group of identity thiefs as a mail order company. They not only were able to purchase lists from various sources, but from credit bureaus. Did you know that all a private investigator needs to get your social security from many sources is just your name and date of birth! And how do they get this, by searching birth records in states. More disturbing, this can all be done now on the internet. From this, over a three year period before these crooks with this phony mail order company were finally caught, (one of the crooks got shafted by the other crooks on his cut and became an informant ) stole over $14 million dollars of goods. This is a real problem folks, something not to think about!

The following has nothing to do with this column's subject matter, but has gotten my interest because of the grief and sadness it has created. It concerns a religious group called, "The Brethren", headed by leader, Jim Roberts. Roughly, this is a group that uses in my opinion, "mind control" towards weak young people that are searching for spiritual answers. The result is, they are forced to give up their families, make no contact with them.
Bart Wilcox Photo
The Wilcox's have been looking for their son for many years. It would be most helpful if anyone sees him to report it to them.

On my website, as part of my Angels of Love project, pages has been devoted to displaying the photos of children that have been lost to this group.

I'm sorry folks, but any religious group that controls like this group does in my opinion is not of God, nor are they truly following the principles of Christianity. God is love in my opinion, and any group that teaches to abandon their family, well you decide for yourself.

There are religious groups that are doing some very good work to resolve the problems of our society. I hope that those seeking their higher spiritual self and a higher power to enlighten them will continue to search for those answers for themselves and especially young people today that are searching for more than what the standard church is offering for spiritual answers and growth. For those young people that may be reading this, let me say one thing, all you need to do is look around at the creation of the universe, life from the largest to the smallest living thing and because of this I do believe there is a higher power, God, or whatever you want to call him, her, or it. Continue to search, for I believe when one gives up the search, one has given up on the most beautiful experience that they will ever experience on this earth plane while they are alive, and that is, acquiring the faith of belief, thus then learning how to love not only oneself, but the caring and truly loving of others unselfishly.

~ David Lawrence Dewey ~

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