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According to an expert in the field, identity theft is now producing more revenue in the United States than drug trafficking.
Apparently it's not that hard for a dead person to open a bank account.
About 400,000 bank accounts were opened last year in the names of dead people, James D. McCartney told an audience last week at Germanna Community College's Fredericksburg-area campus.
The people opening the accounts had stolen the identities of the deceased by buying their Social Security numbers and credit records. It's part of a growing problem of identity theft.
More than 90 million American identities have been reported lost or stolen in the past 18 months, said McCartney, an identity theft expert and author who works for Bearing Point Management and Technology Consultants.
McCartney was speaking at a forum on identity theft organized by the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by Pre-Paid Legal Services Inc.
He said identity theft now produces more revenue than drug trafficking in the U.S. Only 6 percent of companies can say for certain that they haven't lost people's important personal information in the past two years.
He said companies need to be wary of such a loss, because lawsuits from the victims can drive them out of business. He urged companies to safeguard critical data and train those keeping it.
Chamber of Commerce President Bob Hagan called identity theft a "daily threat to all of us, both personally and professionally."
Local FBI Agent Andy Loftin said he's frequently on the phone with victims of identity theft. He said businesses are taking the brunt of the losses.
Loftin said that despite popular perception, the vast majority of compromised data is stolen through ordinary occurrences such as lost wallets or through what he called "Dumpster diving."
Loftin told the audience you can't be 100 percent safe, but it's important to "make yourself a hard target."
Some of his suggestions included checking credit reports, converting entirely to online bill paying, shredding key financial documents, not using shared computers for personal business and avoiding giving critical information to strangers on the phone or by e-mail.
Loftin urged people not to rely on law enforcement to restore all the losses incurred by identity theft. He said victims of the crime will often bring civil suits against businesses.Bill Freehling: 540/374-5405