On Crime & Security
In the 1930s Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker terrorized five states by murdering people and robbing banks and stores. On May 23, 1934 they met their end in an ambush and fatal shootout in Louisiana.
Today a modern criminal pair the national press has dubbed the new "Bonnie & Clyde" also robbed people, stores and banks, but not with blazing guns like their notorious namesakes. This criminal couple simply used false ID cards and credit cards. The case, I believe, serves as a cautionary tale for today's small business people.
On July 14th Jocelyn Kirsch pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy, access device fraud, bank fraud, money laundering and aggravated identity theft. Her boyfriend, Edward Anderton, also pleaded guilty to federal charges.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia, Kirsch, 22, a former Drexel University student, and Anderson, 25, a University of Pennsylvania graduate, stole identity information, credit cards, and credit card account information from numerous victims, including friends, co-workers, neighbors, fellow students, bar patrons, during the period between November 2006 and November 30, 2007. They used the stolen information to live a lavish lifestyle by purchasing merchandize, obtaining cash and traveling to Paris, London, Hawaii, and the Caribbean. Photos of the attractive young couple as they holidayed at their victims' expense were published in the national papers and on the Internet.
The pair stole purses that were left unattended at a local bar and they then used the victim's credit cards to make purchases. In one case, they telephoned the victim and impersonating a police officer, they told the victim that her purse had been recovered and would be returned the following morning. This increased the fraud potential before the cards were canceled.
"The ripple effect of identity theft reaches every consumer and causes cracks in the foundation of our economic system," said Pat Meehan, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District at the time federal charges were filed in May. "These defendants helped themselves to the financial viability of their friends and co-workers, re-inventing ways in which to victimize those who trusted them, for little more then their own entertainment."
The couple stole personal checks, utility bills, credit card statements, and other personal documents from the homes of friends either when they were guests in the homes or, in one case, by burglarizing a friend's home. They also broke into the homes of neighbors living in their apartment complex with keys they had stolen from the building. Anderton also burglarized men's lockers in his office building's fitness center and stole credit card information. Using the victim's personal information, the couple opened fraudulent bank accounts, online accounts and devised a number of other scams. Over the course of a year the couple used the identities of 16 victims in numerous illegal transactions to obtain at least $119,381 in cash and merchandise.
The couple will be sentenced later in the year.
This story is illustrative of the seriousness of identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. Many victims spend a good amount of time and money trying to repair their credit record.
The FTC informs us that identity thieves use a variety of methods to obtain your personal and business information. These methods include:
Dumpster Diving. The thieves rummage through your trash looking for bills or other documents with your information.
Skimming. They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
Phishing. They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
Changing Your Address. They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form.
Old-Fashioned Stealing. They steal wallets and purses, mail, pre-approved credit offers, new checks and tax information. They also steal personnel information or bribe employees who have access.
Pretexting. They use pretenses to obtain your personal and business information from financial institutions, telephone companies and other sources.
The FTC says the best way to prevent identity theft is to monitor your accounts and bank statements each month, and check your credit report on a regular basis.
I would add that you should protect your personal and business information in the same manner you protect your cash receipts. Keep your data under lock when not using it and limit who has access. Shred all of your documents to frustrate the thieves diving into your trash, and be leery of providing information to people you don't know, even if they claim to represent the government. Check them out before you provide them anything via e-mail, over the phone, or in person.
Running a small business is surely tough enough, so do you need identity thieves like the new Bonnie & Clyde using your credit and cash to live a lavish lifestyle?