Local News

Identity Theft On Rise In Durham County

Posted November 19, 2002

— Every year, officials say 700,000 people fall victim to identity theft, and officials claim it is on the rise in the Triangle.

For the past few weeks, Yvonne Lee has been living in an apartment complex in Durham County, but the problem is detectives say she has done so under someone else's name. It is the latest example of identity theft in the county.

"In a lot of cases, they'll pay the bills for a bit, then not pay, skip out and start all over and it's on the victim's credit history," said Detective Spencer Chamberlain, of the Durham County Sheriff's Office.

This year, sheriff's detectives in Durham reported they have investigated more than 200 cases, up from 13 last year. Officials said technology makes identity theft easy.

"If you have a computer and less than $50, you're in business. There's oen particular Web site where you can pay a certain membership fee and access people's Social Security card numbers," Chamberlain said.

Officials claim some criminals still use the old-fashioned route by rifling through trash. WRAL decided to check out the garbage cans at an area post office to see what we could find. In the trash, we found credit card applications, a mortgage statement and an insurance bill.

"It can take victims as long as two to three years or even longer to get their name cleared," Chamberlain said.

However, officials say there are some steps people can take to protect themselves.

"I'd invest in a shredder and shred as much as possible, and if you cut up checks and credit cards, put the pieces in separate trash bags," Chamberlain said.

Officials also caution people to not leave bills in their mailbox, but send them from the post office. It is also a good idea to check your credit history periodically.

Officials say North Carolina ranks 15th in the country for the number of identity theft victims.

Officials say identity theft was the No. 1 consumer complaint last year. The Federal Trade Commission received more than 200,000 complaints. Officials say the losses incurred by financial companies from identity theft top $2 billion.

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