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Posted on November 20, 2019 by in Identity & Privacy, Personal, Scam Alerts

This blog series is dedicated to sharing real-world stories of the most serious cases of stolen identities — and just how devastating these crimes can be on organizations, individuals, and families. This post highlights the perils of losing (or having stolen) a wallet or purse, especially as the year’s busiest retail season approaches.

Dropped Wallet at Airport Leads to Arrest of Identity Thieves

In June 2019, a flight attendant at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport discovered a dropped wallet on the jetway. Inside she found multiple identity cards and credit cards issued in various names. One of the IDs in the wallet was for Robert D. Martin, but there also was another ID issued with the same photo but a different name. The Southwest Airlines gate crew immediately notified airport authorities.

Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department deputies quickly located Martin on the plane, who identified himself as “John Smith,” the name printed on his boarding pass. A woman, sitting next to the man at the time, denied knowing Smith. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, after searching the woman’s carry-on, “deputies found instructions on buying and using stolen Social Security numbers, files with profiles of people, blank checks, notes about bank routing numbers and ‘numerous other documents that appeared to be related to identity theft.’”

After confirming Martin’s real identity through fingerprinting, the Sheriff’s Office determined he had a long rap sheet of fraud convictions and was on probation. His female accomplice was also identified as Dallal Farha, even though her boarding pass was issued in another name.

Investigators contacted the real John Smith (whose detailed profile was included in Farha’s notes), and who reported that he’d been an identity theft victim, and his credit had been ruined. The woman whose identity Farha used recounted a similar story to authorities.

Quite apart from the shocking revelation that two people so easily gained access to a secure airport using stolen identities (TSA is cooperating with law enforcement on the security breach), this case uncovered the growing risk that millions face each day of having their Personal Identifiable Information (PII) appropriated under false pretenses. And there’s an increased likelihood of this happening as the holiday season approaches.

Identity Theft Surges Around the Holidays

Scammers and identity thieves ramp up their fraudulent activities during the holidays because they know people will be shopping, traveling, and being less careful in general with their wallets, purses, and, particularly when shopping online, their personal information. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, this is a growing trend; the number of compromised consumer-based records containing PII more than doubled on 2018, to nearly 450 million.

Criminals targeting individual consumers can be very sophisticated. Creative scammers steal PII (including driver’s licenses or Social Security numbers) to create “synthetic identities” that they can use to initiate fraudulent credit transactions. A competent fraudster can take a stolen SSN, add a different name, birthdate, address and phone number to start a new and fraudulent credit file. They then use the phony credential to apply for loans, buy merchandise, or charge credit or debit cards for a variety of services.

Three Steps to Protect Against Seasonal ID Theft

Here are three steps that you or your organization can take to protect against losses stemming from compromised confidential information theft during the holiday season:

  1. Anti-virus software: If you plan to shop online, invest in and install high-quality software on your computer to make sure there are no known threats or malware viruses already in place.
  2. Protect your network: Make sure you password-protect your home or office network, using a strong password — especially before entering any credit card information on retailer’s websites. This will frustrate any would-be hackers from accessing your Wi-Fi and potentially making off with your PII. And remember — never shop on a public, unsecured Wi-Fi network or hotspot, a true hacker’s playground.
  3. Be proactive in protecting your identity: Check your bank activity, credit card statements, and credit reports in the coming weeks to make sure there is no suspicious or unauthorized activity in your accounts. If you have reason to believe your identity has been compromised, contact the police, as you will need to file a police report to your insurance company when making any claims for theft resulting from identity theft.

IdentityForce helps protect you from identity theft. We’re always monitoring your personal information to protect your identity, privacy, and credit, and will rapidly alert you to any suspicious activity. If we find that a criminal uses your information illegally, you’ll know. And, if that happens, we’ll help restore any damage that is done. Enroll today — it’s fast and easy.

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