Tuesday, April 3, 2001

Identity fraud
growing problem
in Hawaii

An FBI spokesman
indicates identity theft via
the Internet is on the rise

By Nelson Daranciang

Authorities say the arrest of a Honolulu man suspected of making purchases with bogus credit cards points to a new and growing problem in the islands: identity theft.

U.S. Postal Service officials and Honolulu police last week arrested a 24-year-old man suspected of making purchases with credit cards he obtained using other people's identities. He has been released pending further investigation.

The man told postal inspectors he learned about identity theft from a TV news report.

Investigators say they have so far tracked down $3,300 worth of automobile tires and rims that the man purchased over the Internet using one of three credit cards he obtained illegally.

Postal officials are still investigating the case, but they do not believe the man's other purchases were substantial.

"He was just getting started. We caught him in the beginning," postal inspector Kathryn Derwey said.

While the cost of the alleged crime was not great, what is disturbing is how easily the man obtained other people's Social Security numbers over the Internet, according to authorities.

The arrested man was no Web expert, Derwey said.

"He's just a normal guy who wanted to try his luck at this."

The man told investigators he began visiting different Internet cafes last November to search for Social Security numbers of other people. The man then used the Social Security numbers he obtained to apply for credit cards.

Identity theft is "just now beginning to become a problem here. Previously, they were just stealing cards; owners could just cancel. Now, thieves are stealing information from cards and garbage cans," Derwey said.

Other cases of identity theft in Hawaii involve computer-generated false identification cards used with stolen or bogus credit cards and personal checks stolen from mailboxes.

In one case a Honolulu woman's birth certificate was stolen from her home. The thief then used it to obtain a driver's license and open seven credit card accounts, police said.

FBI spokesman John Gillies said identity theft in Hawaii involving personal information obtained over the Internet is on the rise, and it is being made easier by Web sites that offer personal information free or for a fee.

"There have been several Web sites listing Social Security numbers obtained from a U.S. military database and others that list credit card numbers," Gillies said.

Thieves also have used other people's identities to sign up for cellular telephone service, he said.

In last week's arrest, a confidential informant called police when he noticed that the man was receiving mail for other people at a Kalakaua Avenue pawnshop. And he noticed that some of the mail was from credit card companies.

Honolulu police contacted postal officials who on Wednesday made a mail delivery to the pawnshop. They arrested the man when he opened mail addressed to other people. One of the pieces was another credit card.

Investigators have been able to contact one of the three people whose identity was used by the man to obtain a credit card. The person, a Hawaii resident, had no idea that someone had obtained a credit card using his name, Derwey said.

The U.S. General Accounting Office reported that the Secret Service made 10,066 financial-crime arrests in 1999, and 94 percent of them involved identity fraud totaling $745 million.

But Gillies said many small-dollar cases go uninvestigated. "You can't prevent it entirely," Gillies said. "What you can do is minimize your chances of being victimized by fraud."

FBI Identity theft page

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