The meeting room at the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department Training Academy was filled with law enforcement officials, many of them armed, attending a special summit. The main presenter opened with a Bible story.
Rebekah and Isaac had twin sons. Born first, Esau grew to be a hunter and was extremely hairy. The smooth-skinned Jacob was a soft spoken home-body. As Isaac grew old, he became blind. He asked Esau one day to catch some game for a special meal so that he might bestow upon his eldest son his blessing. As Esau hunted, Rebekah and Jacob joined forces to trick Isaac. Rebekah cooked a separate meal and helped disguise Jacob with hairy arms and Esau’s clothes. Jacob presented his blind father with the meal, and Isaac, feeling a hairy body and smelling Esau’s clothing mistakenly gave his blessing and his inheritance to his youngest son. Esau returns too late from his hunt to prevent the stolen blessing that Isaac, regrettably, refuses to revoke.
Special Agent Wayne Ivey of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement told those at the summit that the Old Testament account marks the first recorded case of identity theft. The Biblical anecdote demonstrates identity theft is not new; it has simply evolved into the fastest growing crime in the world.
Listening to the startling information presented makes one realize that this crime is scarier than most imagine. The former police chief of Columbia, South Carolina, Dean Crisp called identity theft the “most under reported, least cared about” crime. Most police officers receiving a complaint about identity theft according to Crisp have a simple, nonchalant, lackadaisical response: “So.”
Even scarier are these discouraging words from Agent Wayne Ivey: “No one is immune. There is no silver bullet to stop identity theft.” As evidence, Ivey asks if anyone has been victimized. Several police officers raise their hands.
One out of 10 will be targets. Only one out of 700 identity thieves are actually apprehended, convicted, and go to jail. Law enforcement, unfortunately, are unable to keep up, are saddled with funding limits, and are admittedly focused on violent crime.
Despite the escalation and severity of identity theft, Ivey says law enforcement lacks a clear understanding of the crime and compassion for the victims. To police officers and prosecutors, identity theft just isn’t sexy.
Senior citizens are prey for identity thieves for many reasons according to Ivey. Susceptible seniors are intimidated by, and therefore refuse to use computers. Some are senile, too gullible, too trusting. They are affluent and have nest eggs, and because identity theft is a crime driven by greed, seniors are desirable targets. The thieves know all too well that when victimized, seniors are much less willing to pursue the case fearing involvement and possible retaliation. So their crimes go un-reported.
Who is to blame for identity theft? Plenty of folks.
- Financial institutions: Ivey says most will not target an identity thief as a “perp” unless there is more than $10,000 involved.
- Credit card companies: Are they losing money? Not on your life. The companies merely offset losses by passing on higher interest rates to other consumers.
- Lending organizations: Ivey contends they are unconcerned because the money they lose isn’t worth the money they’re gaining.
- Consumers: They are culpable, too, due to their lack of vigilance and falling for scams.
In Wisconsin, most identity theft is credit card-related followed by government document cases. That follows the national trend. The Federal Trade Commission reports nationally, credit card fraud is the top identity theft complaint followed by fraud related to government benefits, utilities, phones and loans. Identity theft is the No. 1 consumer complaint in the United States. Again, everyone is vulnerable.
State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents Wisconsin’s 28th Senate District.