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PHOENIX--In a Scottsdale police station last December, a 23-year-old methamphetamine user showed officers a new way to steal identities.

His arrest had been unremarkable. This metropolitan area, which includes Scottsdale and Phoenix, has the highest rate of identity theft complaints in the nation, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Even members of the Scottsdale police force have had their identities stolen.

But the suspect showed officers something they had not seen before. Browsing a government Web site, he pulled up a local divorce document listing the parties' names, addresses and bank account numbers, along with scans of their signatures. With a common software program and some check stationery, the document provided all he needed to print checks in his victims' names--and it was all made available, with some fanfare, by the county recorder's office. The site had thousands of them. . .

According to a Federal Trade Commission survey in 2003, about 10 million Americans--1 in 30--had their identities stolen in the previous year, with losses to the economy of $48 billion. Subsequent surveys, by Javelin Strategy and Research, a private research company, found that the number of victims had declined to nine million last year but that the losses had risen to $56.6 billion.

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In Arizona, one in six adults had their identities stolen in the last five years, about twice the national rate, according to the Javelin survey. . .

And the county's Web site, which earned a place in the Smithsonian's permanent research collection on information technology innovation, has made Social Security numbers and other information, once viewable only by visiting the county recorder's office, accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. Police officers and prosecutors in Phoenix knew of just two cases involving Public Records, but most victims do not know how their identities are stolen.

For local law enforcement, pursuing even low-tech, small-time thieves is often complicated and expensive. The victim could be in Arizona, the thief in another state and the transactions spread all over the world. "If someone goes on the Internet and buys goods from Bangladesh, do you call witnesses from Bangladesh?" asked Barnett Lotstein, a special assistant county attorney.

Lawson said, "I don't think we prosecute 5 percent of it."

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What you can do to protect your family

Shredding your documents and monitoring your credit will not protect you if your local or state government is publishing the same  information on the World Wide Web

 

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Who Controls Your Identity?

If your county or state government has published your personal information over the Internet you may be able to join thousands of fellow citizens who refuse to be exploited.  Click here for legal help and a free evaluation of your possible case .
 
  

 

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