A former mortgage broker put 40 boxes of customers’ personal information into a Las Vegas dumpster. It was December 2006, but we all knew enough about identity theft already to know better. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, effective in 2005, requires the proper disposal of consumer report information and records, as does state law.
The boxes were found and put into safekeeping, probably before any documents were stolen from them. The Las Vegas Sun reported that the boxes contained “tax returns, mortgage applications, bank statements, photocopies of credit cards and drivers’ licenses, at least 230 consumer reports, and other documents containing sensitive consumer information.” Only now is the Federal Trade Commission charging former mortgage broker Gregory Navone with violating the Act.
Five gone-bust mortgage brokers dumped documents at around the same time—five that we know of. We can assume that many others dumped docs too, or deserted their premises complete with documents, which were left for the bad guys to find. No wonder Las Vegas is at the forefront of fraud and identity theft.
Bob and I recently spent many hours with a tweeker (meth-addict) during one of her clean and coherent spells. I’ll call her Kristin, because I can’t use her beautiful, real name. The time was just between her release from jail and her next bust. She had a job, her family had taken her back in and were supportive, and she was poring over a university catalog. She was full of hope and determination.
But the boyfriend…. Still in prison, a meth-cooker and ID thief, due out soon, demanding daily phone calls to keep his girl tied to the old life…
Right. He got out and Kristin disappeared. Back into the cycle of drugs and ID theft. We could have cried for her, this pretty 21-year-old. She was smart, but not strong enough to resist the lure of meth and easy money.
When she was high, she told us, she knew she’d never be caught; she was too clever. She knew she was going to get caught; she was always looking over her shoulder. Confident and paranoid.
In those hours we spent with Kristin, she told us how she used to “get profiles.” A profile is information about a person. It doesn’t have to be much because with a little goes a long way. With a little, you can find the rest.
Her favorite way to get profiles was out of dumpsters located behind businesses. She’d also get quick-credit apps from insiders in casino booths, who’d allow her to take a few off the top on the way to the shredder. Car registrations were good, too, easily found in glove compartments.
With the profiles, she created IDs. First simple ones, just good enough to allow her to purchase the special inks and papers needed to print government IDs. She had the precious printer, but supplies for it are regulated. For Kristin, easy to get around with a simple fake ID, a sweet smile.
With her newly minted IDs and profiles (for herself and her pals), Kristin and her team leased cars. Cadillac SUVs, to be specific, whatever they’re called. They always drove the latest models. They had an endless source of identities, cash, and credit.
They lived in motels, where they set up their mobile meth labs. Kristin, just the clean-up girl in the operation, got too close to the fumes once and got chemical burns on her face, neck, chest, hands, and arms. She was scabbed over for a year. She pointed out the scars, and the thick makeup she wore on her face to minimize them.
In a moment of desperation, Kristin once grabbed the profile of a wealthy family friend from her father’s home office. Tears trickled down her cheeks as she told us how she destroyed the man’s credit—and her father. Because he knew. She was ashamed of herself; mortified. Now she recognized that she was out of jail on an incredibly lucky break. She was going to study to become an architect. She was going to return to ballet.
Kristin’s back at it again, getting profiles, getting cash and credit on other people’s good histories, wreaking havoc. She and how many others?
Many people tell us they’re afraid to shop and bank online. But these activities are not a big factor in identity theft. The real threat is out of our hands. It’s how others keep our information. Big businesses with databases. Small businesses with manila folders. Mom & pops with a property to rent and an old box of rental apps (as I recently found in my garage—and shredded).
One man’s garbage is another’s fortune. Kristin and her friends are ready to exploit that old, forgotten information.
But there’s worse. Much worse. I’ll write about that soon.