Kenneth Swope, 50, is a hard-working tile setter and family man, and like so many others, he was taken advantage of when his identity was stolen. He didn’t find out that his identity had been compromised until he applied for a home equity loan to pay for his daughter’s college tuition. When he applied for the loan, he found something on his credit report that shouldn’t have been there.
“I had to call the credit company to find out who opened the account, and they wouldn’t tell me. They said it was me,” said Swope. After some investigation, he found that the accounts were listed under his parents’ home address, where he had never lived. After the individual had Swope’s Social Security number, a date if birth was the only critical information needed to open accounts. “Every creditor and credit agency wanted me to prove everything,” said Swope, “but nobody wanted the person who opened the fraudulent accounts to prove anything.” Swope suspected a relative was guilty, but no charges were ever filed against anyone.
In 2009, there were 336,655 complaints of cybercrime reported to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, a 22 percent increase from 2008. The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) is a joint operation between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center. IC3 receives victim’s complaints of cybercrime and refers them to the appropriate local, state or federal law enforcement agency for investigation.
There were also $559 million in losses associated with the complaints in 2009. This is an all-time high for the number of complaints and the amount of monetary loss. “The number of complaints IC3 receives increases each year,” said Carie Lemley, IC3’s complaint supervisor.
The Internet has grown from about 400,000 users to 1.5 billion users in the past nine years, according to Special Agent Brian Herrick of the Philadelphia FBI Cyber Squad. “There is an increased population online, so there will be an increase in the criminal element as well,” said Herrick.
Out of all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania ranks seventh in the number of complaints filed. This means Pennsylvanians are being scammed more often than residents of the District of Columbia and 43 other states. Pennsylvania constitutes 3.4 percent of IC3’s total complaints, just behind Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Florida and California.
Philadelphia, however, was ranked the 38th riskiest city out of the 50 most populous cities for Internet-related crime, according to Norton’s report of the top 10 riskiest online cities. In other words, Philadelphia is the 12th safest city for Internet use. This could be attributed to the fact that Philadelphians are not very connected to the internet.
Philadelphians spend less on home and mobile Internet than most major cities, according to Norton’s report. Only Miami, St. Louis, Cleveland and Detroit spend less per household on internet. Similarly, only 58 percent of adults in Philadelphia are engaging in some kind of internet use, compared to 75 percent of adults in the most wired cities, like Seattle. However, Philadelphia is ranked 16th for cybercrime, which is relatively high given the low amount of Internet access throughout the city.
“Where you have greater amounts of population you will have greater crime in the traditional sense, that’s the same online as well,” said Herrick. He doesn’t see Philadelphia having more cybercrime than any other major city because cybercrime is not as geographic as traditional crimes. The individual is usually someone the victim doesn’t know, and more than likely cybercriminals will attack people in a different state or country.
“We may start an investigation in Philadelphia and there is a likely chance that if the victim is here, then the actor may not be,” said Herrick. For instance, Herrick had a case in which a local university’s server was hacked, and the hacker turned out to be in New Zealand.
This kind of criminal anonymity was true for Mary Lou DiMaggio’s father, Lewis Shields, who recently had his identity stolen. DiMaggio still has no idea who stole her father’s identity and how somone got a hold of his personal information.
DiMaggio discovered her father’s personal information had been compromised when she went to cash a check in a joint account that had both her and her father’s names on it. There she was told that she wrote a check for $5,000 when she never had. “It turns out it was a check they thought I had written, but it was a fraudulent signature,” said DiMaggio.
The check was a perfect match. It had all the relevant information, such as the account number and DiMaggio’s home address, but the signature was wrong. “It was my father’s perfect check with my imperfect signature,” said DiMaggio, “and it was detected through the clearing house.”
The only warning sign DiMaggio had was a call to the bank about activity on her father’s account. “People were calling and asking questions about my father’s account, so my father went to the bank and everything was in perfect order. Shortly thereafter though, everything was not in perfect order,” she said.
DiMaggio is still trying to resolve the situation which began last November. Similarly, it took Swope about six months and about 100 hours on the phone to recover his identity. “I talked to all the credit agencies and creditors and no one would listen to me at all, until I filed a police report,” said Swope.
The incident with her father has infuriated DiMaggio because her father can’t access the money he rightfully earned. “It’s just such a violation,” she said, “It’s just amazing to me that someone can work that long and that hard and have no access to the money that he’s entitled to.”
It also has DiMaggio thinking about protecting her own identity. “I was never big on shredding or burning because I never thought it would apply to me,” she said.
“Before I started working here [IC3] I didn’t understand the level of fraud that was out there,” said Lemley, IC3’s complaint supervisor.
Non-delivered merchandise or payments, identity theft, credit card fraud, auction fraud and computer fraud were the top five types of cybercrime reported in 2009, according to IC3’s Internet Crime Report. Email phishing scams, lottery scams and relationship fraud also tend to be favorites for cybercriminals. However, Lemley said that, “usually cybercrime trends will mutate based on what’s currently happening.”
Recently, Lemley is seeing a lot of work-at-home scams, most likely due to the current increase in unemployment. “I suggest you research a company before you apply for a job online, because all they need is for you to fill out a form and give them some personal identifiers, then you’ve been a victim of identity fraud,” she said. People seem to have too much trust online, when they shouldn’t because they have no idea who they are actually dealing with, according to Lemley.
Also, Herrick has seen an increase in child identity theft. “Many people don’t realize that a child’s identity can be stolen just like an adults,” he said. Criminals don’t steal people’s identities to become them; instead, they want to hide behind them and have access to their good credit.
“So if you steal the identity of a 21-year-old that crime may be found out very soon, but if you steal the identity of an 8- or 9-year-old, it may be years before that child’s credit report is checked,” said Herrick. He recommends that all people, adults and children, check their credit reports on a regular basis.
Regularly checking credit reports and closely examining credit card statements are the best ways for people to protect themselves. It’s also important for people to do research when shopping online and applying for jobs online. “Don’t rush into any transaction, and if it looks too good to be true than it probably is,” said Lemley.
For more information about current cybercrime trends or to file a complaint visit www.ic3.gov
Also, you can check your credit report at www.AnnualCreditReport.com