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m aking the act of check fraud impo ssible.
Taking steps to avoid
By Mari Frank
WHEN A WOMAN I’d never met took my identity
in 1996, I was shocked. She stole more than $50,000
in my name; used my good reputation to obtain
credit to buy a convertible; totaled a rental car, for
which I was sued; and, worse, assumed my profession as an attorney, distributing business cards with
my name on them. It took me 11 months and 500 hours
of my time to regain my identity.
When I learned that there were no laws to assist victims of identity theft,
I took action by helping to write legislation and testifying in Congress to create laws to protect consumers. It is now my mission to support thousands of
victims and protect good people from identity theft.
A recent survey conducted by Impulse Research Inc. found that approximately 57 percent of Americans have experienced some form of identity theft,
or the crime has affected someone they know. While millions of people have
lived the nightmare of identity theft, the survey shows only 34 percent of
Americans are concerned about becoming a victim.
One traditional form of identity theft still popular today is check fraud.
Ernst & Young estimates that more than 500 million checks are forged annually
in the United States. In one common crime, the fraudster erases information on
the check with household chemicals and replaces it with new information. According to a recent Los Angeles Times article, this decades-old process is known
as “check washing” among con men, and in an era of high-tech crimes it seems
almost quaint. Except that it’s back, along with other check crimes.
Check fraud is growing at a rate of The buzz today is about online identity theft. But raditional methods of fraud are still happening, so take action now. For example, when writing checks or signing important documents, use a pigmented gel ink pen. The pigments in such pens get embedded within the fibers of the paper, helping to prevent criminals from washing off sensitive information.
25 percent It is vital to take privacy and identity theft issues seri-
each year ously and empower yourself with knowledge. Before you
provide your private information offline or online, stop and
consider your privacy—be vigilant and exercise caution. Protect
yourself from this faceless crime. A
Mari Frank is an identity theft expert, attorney and author of Safeguard Your Identity:
Protect Yourself with a Personal Privacy Audit and The Identity Theft Survival Kit. As
a certified information privacy professional, Ms. Frank provides training and consulting
on privacy issues for law enforcement, government agencies and top corporations and
financial institutions. She has also appeared on Dateline and 48 Hours, and hosted her
own PBS television show. For more information, visit www.identitytheft.org.