This paper will cover the topic of identity theft via the internet, phone and several other schemes. It will identify various ways in which your identity is stolen and ways which you can safeguard yourself from being victimized. I will also report what the Department of Justice is doing and the penalties associated with these crimes. Identity fraud is use of a persons name, social security number or other personal identifying information. Once armed with this information the thief can open accounts and rack up huge debts for goods and services. These criminals also open up various accounts ranging from cell phones to bank accounts.

Once these accounts are established they don't pay the bill and also write bad checks on that account. One way which criminals obtain your identifying information is through "SPAM" e-mails. These e-mails are unsolicited promising benefits requiring certain identifying information. These criminals are not limited to obtaining accounts in your name but also obtain valid drivers licenses in your name. In March of 2000 a con artist duplicated the Wells Fargo bank web page and sent out a" SPAM" e-mail message telling customers they needed to verify some of their account data. The email linked to a phony page, which was similar to the actual Wells Fargo page.

Once customers received this email they entered their information into the page sending it right to these criminals. Another common way in which criminals steal your identity is "shoulder surfing." Criminals will watch you from a nearby location as you enter your calling card number or credit card number. Once they have this information it's open season on your credit and your identity. Even the trash outside your home or business is a target.

Some criminals engage in "dumpster diving" where they rummage through your garbage cans or a communal dumpster to obtain copies of your checks, credit card statements, bank statements, and e-mail account. Almost on a daily basis we receive applications for "pre-approved" credit cards in the mail. The usual course of action is tearing the application in half throwing it in the trash without a second thought. Once again with the right information the criminal can activate the account charging whatever he wants leaving you to foot the bill.

The following are ways to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft. 1) Credit card companies often need your mother's maiden name in order to verify your identity. However if a person calls and says he's from your bank requesting your mother's maiden name this should send a flag up. The bank doesn't need to know that information because it's already on file.

You should also have the only your name printed on your checks deleting such information as social security number, and home telephone number. 2) If you receive a call offering you a chance to win a major credit card prize but asks you for personal data such as social security number, credit card number or expiration date, or mothers maiden name. Never give out this information over the phone because 9 out of 10 times you " re being scammed. 3) If you go away on vacation have the postal service hold your mail or have a family member or friend pick it up daily. 4) Check you financial information on a regular basis. This includes bank accounts, credit cards, and any other accounts held.

5) Periodically request a copy of your credit report. Your credit report should list all bank and financial accounts under your name and will provide other indications of whether someone has wrongfully opened or used accounts in your name. The Department of Justice prosecutes cases of identity theft under federal statutes. In the fall of 1998 Congress passed the "Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act." This legislation created a new offense of identity theft which prohibits knowingly transferring or using without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of Federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable State or local law. (Department of Justice) The following are the Federal statutes and penalties related to identity fraud. 18 U.

S. C. & 1028 (a) (7). This offense in most circumstances carries a maximum term of 15 years' imprisonment, a fine, and forfeiture of any personal property used or intended to be used to commit the offense. (F. B.

I... ) Schemes to commit identity theft or fraud may also involve violations of other such as credit card fraud (18 U. S. C. &1029), computer fraud (18 U. S.

C. & 1030, mail fraud (18 U. S. C.

&1341, wire fraud (18 U. S. C. &1343, or financial institution fraud (18 U. S. C.

&1344. Each of these federal offenses are felonies that carry substantial penalties in some cases as high as 30 years' imprisonment, fines, and criminal forfeiture. Massachusetts also has a law pertaining to identity fraud. Massachusetts. General Law (M. G.

L. ) Ch. 266 Sec. 37 E pertains to identity fraud and carries a maximum penalty of $5, 000. 00 or imprisonment in a house of correction for not more than two and one-half years, or by both such fine and imprisonment. (M.

G. L. ) Identity theft is rapidly expanding and if one becomes a victim takes years of time and money to erase. Today's criminal is high tech and with the Internet at the click of a button one is able to get vital information that can ruin you for life.

It's your responsibility to safeguard yourself against identity theft. Sources 1) Department of Justice.