Identity Theft More Often an Inside Job

Thursday, 5 December 2002, 1:32 PM EST

You can take all the steps you want to protect yourself against identity theft: Guard your wallet, shred your personal financial papers before throwing them in the trash, monitor your credit reports.

But no matter how careful you are, you may not be able to avoid having your identity assumed by someone who wants to go on a buying spree, using your credit card, bank account, Social Security number or other personal data.

That's because the nature of identity theft has changed and the threat today is more likely than ever to come from insiders -- employees with access to large financial databases who can loot personal accounts -- than from a thief stealing a wallet or pilfering your mail. Banks, companies that take credit cards and credit-rating bureaus themselves don't do enough to protect consumers, critics say.

"You can spend a lot of time and money trying to protect yourself," obtaining copies of your credit reports every three to six months, buying a credit-monitoring service to alert you when someone is making inquiries about your account or even buying identity-theft insurance, said Robert Gellman, a D.C. privacy consultant. "You can do as much as you can do, but it won't stop you from being a victim. There's nothing I'm aware of that will guarantee you not become a victim."

That fact was underscored last week when federal prosecutors announced that they had arrested and charged three people in connection with a scheme to steal the personal financial information of 30,000 Americans by downloading data from a computer and selling it to scam artists. The prosecutors said it was the largest case of identity fraud ever detected.

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