• "He That Filches...My Good Name": Identity Theft
  • June 19, 2003
  • Law Firm: McGlinchey Stafford, PLLC - New Orleans Office
  • Identity thieves are being handsomely enriched by lifting names and numbers, and their victims are poorer indeed. Some victims have been forced to change their names. The Federal Trade Commission reports that identity theft complaints increased from 31,000 in 2000 to 380,000 in 2002. Of all fraud complaints, ID theft tops the agency's list and accounts for 43 percent of all consumer fraud. The dollar losses consumers said they suffered because of fraud has grown from $160 million to $343 million between last year and the previous one.

    What's our point? It seems the workplace is a ripe area for such thieves to plunder. The top cause of identity fraud, beating all other sources, including stolen credit cards, mail theft and stolen purses or wallets, is now theft of records from employers or other businesses that have records on many individuals, according to a report by TransUnion, a credit information provider. About 90 percent of business record thefts involve payroll or employment records.

    Victim's rights groups are lobbying state legislatures to pass laws protecting records -- particularly job applications and other personnel data that should be safely filed in company offices or computers. Information from personnel records is being used to rent apartments, establish credit card accounts, buy cars, and carry out numerous other crimes. As statistics mount, federal agencies are trying to ratchet up awareness.

    Federal investigators know that much of the theft is done by "insiders." In addition to accessing records, thieves take advantage of credit card receipts tossed into the trash, and third party vendors -- like those -- that provide company credit cards -- have stolen IDs. Sometimes the information is stolen by a colleague from a co-worker's personal possessions. Thieves have been known to take temporary jobs in order to nab employee records.

    Companies can take steps to protect data: locking up paper files, being hyper-sensitive to who has access to computer files, revamping policies, keeping audit trails that document those who review employment data, removing Social Security numbers from ID badges, conducting background checks on employees and temporary workers, carrying out both drug tests and random drug screening, and bringing in third parties to conduct privacy investigations that gauge how vulnerable records are to theft. The FTC is working with industries to develop 'best practices'.