Three N.D. cities listed in top cities for ID fraud

FARGO, N.D. - Fargo, Bismarck and Grand Forks, N.D., are among the top 10 U.S. cities that are hotspots for an increase in identity fraud, a study released this month shows.

FARGO, N.D. - Fargo, Bismarck and Grand Forks, N.D., are among the top 10 U.S. cities that are hotspots for an increase in identity fraud, a study released this month shows.

Identity fraud methods vary, according to law officials. Possible scenarios could begin with a simple billfold snatching or by responding to a bogus e-mail requesting personal information.

Using this information, thieves can open credit card and/or bank accounts in their victims' names. The end result could be costly for identity fraud victims left with bad credit and even criminal records thanks to identity thieves' reckless use of their names.

"It's a pattern that mirrors the rest of the country," Parrell Grossman, director of the North Dakota attorney general's consumer protection division, said of identity fraud. "It's the fastest-growing white-collar crime."

Sgt. Jeff Skuza said the Fargo Police Department has also noticed increases in identity theft. "Unfortunately, not a lot of ID theft cases are reported until we inform people they are victims."


ID Analytics Inc., a California-based company that sells fraud-protection merchandise to businesses, analyzed fraud reports filed throughout the United States last year. The study determined which ZIP codes experienced the most criminal activity, said Stephen Coggeshall, the report's author and ID Analytics' chief technology officer in San Diego, Calif.

The study not only turned up high reports of identity fraud in U.S. metropolitan areas, but also noted increased reports in rural areas like North Dakota and Montana.

Six Montana cities and Springfield, Ill., are also among the top 10 hotspots for identity fraud, according to the study.

Identity theft numbers weren't available from Grossman's office on Thursday, but he said his office has gone from receiving several reports a month to two or more in one week.

"Identity theft is a very lucrative method of crime," Grossman said. "It's very difficult to discover identity theft" if thieves use anonymous methods including the Internet.

Skuza and Grossman both noted "phishing," or several e-mails sent by crooks asking for personal information, is one popular method used to steal people's identities.

Phishing is "fairly common," Skuza said. Even Fargo police officers aren't immune to it, he said of the bogus e-mail he received from a "bank" asking him to confirm his identity by providing an ATM card number with an expiration date.

Skuza warned people against responding to phishing e-mails. He said mail theft is another avenue used by crooks.


"People need to be careful about mailing their bills," Skuza said of leaving mail in mailboxes for postal workers. Mail thieves could take advantage of credit card applications and other personal information left in mailboxes, he said.

Those who are victims of identity theft or who want to help prevent becoming a victim can take advantage of North Dakota's recently passed credit-freeze law, Grossman said.

The law that took effect June 1 allows North Dakotans to ask the nation's three primary credit reporting agencies for a "security freeze" on their credit files. A frozen file cannot be opened without the customer's permission. That means no new credit accounts can be opened in the customer's name without his or her knowledge or approval.

The security freeze is free to victims of identity theft, Grossman said. Others pay a $5 fee to each of the agencies for the freeze and to temporarily "thaw" the freeze.

Grossman also recommends consumers view their credit reports for unusual activity. "We cannot stress enough how important it is to take advantage of those reports."

Identity theft increased the most during 2006 in these cities

The 10 cities and their ZIP codes where identity fraud increased most rapidly during 2006 are:

1. Springfield, Ill. (62707)


2. Bozeman, Mont. (59715 and 59718)

3. Missoula, Mont. (59804, 59803 and 59808)

4. Whitefish, Mont. (59937)

5. Lolo, Mont. (59847)

6. Bismarck (58504)

7. Hamilton, Mont. (59840)

8. Bigfork, Mont. (59911)

9. Grand Forks, N.D. (58201)


10. Fargo (58104)

Readers can reach Forum reporter Benny Polacca at (701) 241-5504

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