Wednesday, May 30, 2001

Identity theft growing at alarming rate in Ky.

The Associated Press

        LEXINGTON — The Kentucky attorney general's office receives at least five inquiries a day about a crime known as identity theft.

        In Lexington, police have investigated at least 40 identity-theft cases since January.

        A growing number of Kentuckians are reporting that someone has stolen their identities to open a bank account or obtain credit, said Corey Bellamy, spokesman for the attorney general's office.

        The Kentucky General Assembly passed a law in 2000 making identity theft a crime, after Kentucky law enforcement officials began noticing more cases in the late 1990s.

        The state law allows the suspect to be prosecuted in the victims' home counties, Lexington police Detective Chris White said. Otherwise the victim would have to deal with the court system in each state or county where a crime occurred.

        Nationally, identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes and has become a national crisis, James Huse Jr., the Social Security Administration's inspector general, told Congress last week. About 1,400 people report fraud each week to the Federal Trade Commission. As many as 500,000 are victimized annually.

        For Ray Holt, the first clue someone had stolen his identity came when retail stores sent letters wanting payment on bad checks that Mr. Holt hadn't written, from a Lexington bank where he did no business.

        Connie Speaks of Lexington found out she was an identity-theft victim when she received a telephone call from a Wal-Mart official in Ohio, inquiring about an overdue credit card account she knew nothing about.

        The suspects are trash diggers, mail thieves, purse snatchers, Internet abusers, and even payroll, personnel department and credit-bureau employees who may access records and sell the information to the highest bidder.

        Most Kentucky towns began tracking the cases in January, and statewide numbers aren't being compiled yet.

        An arrest warrant was issued in Fayette Circuit Court this month for a former assistant Fayette County attorney, accused of identity-theft-related charges, who failed to show up for a hearing, Judge Lewis Paisley said. Lexington police criminally cited Raymond Brian Rice in 1999, alleging that he made a false statement regarding his identity to obtain two credit cards.

        Fayette County Attorney Margaret Kannensohn fired Mr. Rice after he was cited. Mr. Rice, who pleaded not guilty, allegedly used the identity of a Crestwood man, according to court records.

        Mr. White said he's made at least two identity-theft arrests this month. One of the larger cases emerged in the fall of 2000, he said, when a group of people rented downtown Lexington apartments and obtained credit in other people's names so they could purchase merchandise and have items mailed.

        Identity thefts began increasing about three or four years ago as more people began applying for credit and making purchases on the Internet, Mr. White said. Nationally, 88 percent of the victims don't have relationships with the people suspected in the crimes, although Lexington police have investigated cases in which family members were the perpetrators.

        Victims are surprised to find out how difficult it is to get their credit straightened out once the fraud has been committed, Mr. White said.

        Mr. Holt said he has lost work time to meet with police and security officials at a local grocery store.

        “I have no clue who is doing it. I just want to get it resolved,” Mr. Holt said. “I've never done any checking” with the bank involved.

        Ms. Speaks said she had received reports from as far away as Georgia and Florida that her identity had been used illegally. The crimes against her are costing more money in long-distance telephone calls, and she can't seem to find a human voice on the other end of the line.

        “I've been on the phone with computers for three days,” she said.


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