published Friday, February 24th, 2012

Chattanooga police learning how to track ID theft


• 19 — Tennessee’s rank nationwide in number of ID theft complaints

• 4 — Georgia’s rank nationwide in number of ID theft complaints

• 4,175 — Number of complaints in Tennessee

• 9,404 — Number of complaints in Georgia

• 21 — Percentage of cases from government documents or benefits fraud in Tennessee

• 31 — Percentage of cases from government documents or benefits fraud in Georgia

• 15 — Percentage of credit card fraud cases in Tennessee

• 14 — Percentage of credit card fraud cases in Georgia

• 13 — Percentage of phone or utilities fraud in Tennessee

• 12 — Percentage of phone or utilities fraud in Georgia

Source: LifeLock Inc.

While online ID theft is high on the radar of people these days, less than 1 percent of the people who commit such crimes are charged, authorities say.

“Fundamentally, we have a big problem in law enforcement and it's only going to get worse,” said Levi Gundert, an FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Association instructor who taught a class on identity theft Thursday at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office annex.

About 40 law enforcement officers attended the training, which ranged from viewing the latest equipment that thieves are using to steal ID information from ATM and credit card machines to learning how hackers access the accounts of victims.

With unsecure wireless networks, hackers can use software to steal people’s passwords and user names, Gundert said. Culprits are difficult to catch because they can use several computers, including ones located overseas, to run a single scam.

“It’s really a difficult investigation. It takes two to three years,” he said, noting that federal authorities often have to work with an international policing organization.

Chattanooga Police Department Detective Moreland Wilson, who has worked in the fraud unit for the past eight years, said he believes the number of online fraud cases is growing locally. He estimates about half of his cases involve online scams.

There are two detectives assigned to the unit. On an average day, Wilson said he’s usually working between 40 to 50 ID-theft cases.

The class provided “helpful information. That’s why I signed up,” he said during a break.

Last year, the Chattanooga Police Department worked 1,488 fraud cases, an increase of about 42 percent from 2010 when a total of 865 cases were investigated for fraud, embezzlement and forgery.

In 2010, Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office investigated a total of 144 cases involving fraud, embezzlement and forgery. Figures for 2011 were not available.

The one-day training was offered through FBI's Law Enforcement Executive Development Association, a nonprofit created to train more law enforcement officers.

Some of the agencies that sent investigators to the training included Chattanooga police, Hamilton County sheriff’s, East Ridge Police Department, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Tennessee Highway Patrol.

LifeLock Inc., a Tempe, Ariz., company that specializes in identity protection, has worked with the organization to provide the training to law enforcement in 31 states, said Paige Hanson, manager for education programs for LifeLock.

More people will continue to become victimized because so much personal information is stored on computers, Hanson said, and anti-virus software generally only catches 20 percent of viruses.

She recommends people still have the software and keep it updated, though.

“It’s worth the investment,” she said.

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