A May 4 article in the Wall Street Journal ranks Beaumont as No. 1 – but not in opportunity or culture, as elected officials would perhaps like to see, but rather as the capital for incidences of identity manipulation. Beaumont, according to a report compiled and released by ID Analytics, leads the nation in per-capita identity-manipulation attempts, which is slightly different than identity theft, according to researchers working on the report – but no less a crime.
“What we’re looking at here is a very specific kind of identity fraud – different than identity theft, but still very similar,” ID Analytics chief technology officer Stephen Coggeshall told The Examiner. “Fraudsters are taking their own information and altering it to get products and services. Sometimes they end up with an identity that already belongs to someone; other times it just is stealing from the business they are trying to defraud. Either way, there is a victim. And the victim is sometimes society as a whole.”
Detective JoAnn Jacobs of the Property Division in Criminal Investigations at the Beaumont Police Department, said, “Identity theft is a broad problem – they’ll steal your information, your stuff off the Internet, anything they can get their hands on.” With identity manipulation, “someone will use a routing number and account number that’s good, and put different names on the check. One had a name misspelled and the street name was spelled different – the people actually lived in Tomball and the checks were circulated here in Beaumont.”
According to Coggeshall, when thieves are able to steal products, services, or credit from institutions or businesses without there being a way for the entities to recoup their losses because they don’t know who it was that stole the goods in the first place, higher costs and overhead is passed on to paying consumers. Coggeshall said fraudsters typically accomplish altering their identity by using false names, Social Security numbers, addresses or dates of birth.
To produce the report, Coggeshall and researchers with ID Analytics sifted through 100 million applications for new accounts (about one-third of all new accounts) and 1,000 three-digit metropolitan zip codes to render a conclusion. Of the 1,000 zip codes analyzed, representing the entire U.S., Beaumont shined above the rest when the data was read.
“You really do have a high amount of identity manipulation going on – I don’t know if there is a few individuals or a lot of individuals doing it,” Coggeshall said. “Beaumont is close to the southern border, close to the Gulf Coast and you have this federal correctional complex; we frequently see this type of thing emanate from prisons.”In fact, Beaumont’s “777” zip code was No. 1 on the list of the nation’s top metropolitan areas for identity manipulation, but the city’s “776” zip code also made the Top 20. Other cities to make the list twice were New Orleans, Detroit and Houston.
Coggeshall said identity manipulators don’t usually target specific individuals, but rather “accidentally” use someone else’s Social Security number, birth date, name or address.
“Who’s the victim? In this case, a couple people are harmed,” Coggeshall said. “The bank is harmed because they will not be able to collect and the business that gave that product is harmed. Also whoever’s ID is inadvertently used is also harmed.
“It’s a real hassle for the people’s whose information they actually use.”
The Beaumont Police Department has reported that the city has been plagued with identity theft-related crimes, but according to Jacobs, cases of identity manipulation are seldom reported to the police department, and if they are, can be very hard to investigate.
With manipulators, the cases sometimes hit a brick wall called the federal government. Such is the case with the dozens of instances reported to Beaumont police regarding fraudsters stealing identities and filing false claims with the IRS.
“We’re not able to get the Social Security numbers and such so the IRS investigates all that. …The IRS doesn’t give us this information,” she said. Furthermore, Jacobs added, “it would seem like the victims in these types of offenses may be more likely to be large businesses. For instance, large banks or credit card companies that – due to them having their own fraud units – most likely do not report incidents to local police agencies.”
The Beaumont IRS office is currently only open only 6 days a month with limited hours, but Jacobs said new cases are brought to BPD on a regular basis claiming IRS identity theft.
Coggeshall said of the millions of applications that contained manipulated identification, some were successful and others were not.
“These are fraud attempts – there are varying levels of success. Some of these were caught, and others were successful,” he said. “Enough of these get through so that (the criminals) keep doing it.”
According to Coggeshall, everyone should be vigilant about protecting their identity so as not to fall victim – especially in the identification manipulation capital of America.“Be very careful about your Social Security number and date of birth,” he cautioned. “You also ought to watch your mail, maybe subscribe to ID theft monitoring services, and be very vigilant about keeping track of your credit. “
Coggeshall said his company offers a Web site where guests can put in information and see if they are at risk, www.myidscore.com . This will show, he said, “Whether or not they should be worried about their information.”
“When you have someone doing systematic fraud in one area,” he said as a word of warning to Beaumonters, “you are definitely at risk for them committing fraud in another area as well.”