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ID Theft Rampant In State



SACRAMENTO — Despite pioneering legislation aimed at clamping down on rampant identity theft, California is a top target for thieves and was the only state last year believed to have more than 1 million victims.

That unflattering distinction forced cash-strapped law enforcement officials to ask for help from politicians, businesses, consumer advocates and even victims who gathered Tuesday during the state´s first identity theft summit.

“Instead of businesses and consumers being at different ends of the sales transaction, they need to be working side by side to prevent the sophisticated enterprises that keep us all on our toes,” said Jan Scully, Sacramento County district attorney.

“There´s no way we in law enforcement can do it alone.”

Sheriffs, legislators, postal workers and consumer watchdogs want to increase the amount of funding for prosecutors and for five state task forces dedicated to identity theft crimes — now about $12.4 million per year. Only about 11 percent of identity theft cases statewide are solved, Scully said.

More than 9.9 million Americans were victims of identity theft last year, and the crimes cost the nation more than $5billion, not including lost productivity, according to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

Nearly one in 10 victims last year was from California, which had five of the nation´s top 15 regions for identity fraud reports, according to Federal Trade Commission data released last month.

Although greater Phoenix reported the most fraud per capita, Californians in Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Sacramento counties are highly vulnerable, according to the FTC.

California´s dubious status as the nation´s identity theft capital also could be tied to soaring methamphetamine sales.

Prosecutors say meth dealers often use credit scored from identity theft to get money for labs and raw materials and to pay pushers.

California´s high number of crimes also could be the result of the state´s pioneering legislation to thwart identity theft, resulting in increased reporting of the crimes, experts said.

In July 2003, California became the first state to pass a law requiring companies to notify consumers whenever security breaches expose personal data.

On Feb. 15, data aggregation company ChoicePoint Inc. acknowledged that it was notifying 35,000 Californians that con artists had accessed their data. After complaints from federal politicians and attorneys general in other states, the company began sending warnings to 110,000 consumers in other states.

California is the only state where consumers can order a “credit freeze” with the major credit bureaus.

That requires lenders, retailers, utilities and other businesses to get special access to credit reports through a PIN-based system and helps prevent impostors from getting new loans and credit.