ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - It started with a letter from a Circuit City store
in Catonsville, and "it spread like a virus."
Kevin Reigrut, who lives in Pasadena, had never shopped at the store,
much less applied for credit there. But Circuit City, which misspelled his
name, said they were turning down his application since they could not
confirm his work address.
That prompted Reigrut, 31, to call the police about a possible case of
identity theft. About a month later, he found out how extreme it was.
Reigrut got a call on his unlisted cell phone from a leasing business
New Jersey. They indicated that a company - of which Reigrut was supposedly
president - was entering into a leasing agreement on $60,000 in computer
equipment. Detectives tracking Reigrut's case later found someone had used
his identity to open a bank account and a post office box.
"It was a systematic car-jacking of my entire identity," Reigrut
There's nothing new about identity theft. But it's becoming one of the
fastest-growing crimes in the nation thanks in part to the advance of
technology - particularly the Internet.
Personal identifying information that can be stolen ranges from your
name, address and telephone number, to driver's license numbers, Social
Security numbers, bank account numbers, personal identification numbers
credit card numbers.
The Federal Trade Commission identified 69,370 victims of the crime
nationwide from the time it first began collecting the information in
November 1999 until June 2001. Many more identity theft crimes go
Almost half the reported crimes involved credit card fraud, costing
credit card companies up to a billion dollars a year.
Some of the information is obtained fraudulently, some legally. Companies
hold huge databases of personal information, and there are few laws that
restrict the sale of that information from company to company. In Internet
chat rooms, credit and calling card numbers are traded like currency.
"The interconnectivity of people is absolutely the driving force here
the ability to do transactions anonymously," said Pat Roddy, assistant
county attorney for Baltimore County.
Maryland is one of the top five states in per capita identity theft
complaints, along with California, Nevada, New York and Oregon, according
the FTC. In Baltimore County alone, there was one case reported in 1999.
2001, there were 406.
As a detective in the Montgomery County police department's auto theft
unit, Tom Reich says he's investigated dozens of cases where thieves used
stolen identities to buy cars. That includes a case last year when a
Baltimore man used a dead man's Social Security number to get an online
and buy a $53,000 BMW sport utility vehicle at a Rockville dealership.
Sophisticated computers, image scanners and high-quality printers have
made it possible for almost anyone to fabricate important documents, Reich
"If you own a Maryland driver's license and scan it in, you can change
everything that you want," he said. "You print it up on a good color printer
and it'd be tough to figure it out. You get the right laminate, and away
It may take the dealerships months to figure out the purchase was a
fraud, Reich said.
Currently, using someone else's identity in Maryland is a misdemeanor
punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 or up to a year in prison. Two bills
before committees in the General Assembly would change that.
The proposed legislation would raise penalties for someone intending
distribute personal identifying information without the individual's consent
to a felony status - punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Someone who
uses another person's identifying information to get a benefit of more than
$500 could also be sent to prison for up 15 years.
The proposed legislation also extends the current law to make it illegal
to possess personal identifying information with the intent to distribute
it. As of now, you have to prove it was fraudulently obtained. That can
difficult because some people come across the information legally - in
workplace databases and on job and housing applications.
It also expands police authority to operate without regard to
jurisdictions. This would help address a common and potentially confusing
problem with identity theft, because the victim, the criminal and the crime
are often in different places - even in different states.
The proposed legislation is wrapped into a series of anti-terrorism
measures inspired by the Sept. 11 attacks. Some of the hijackers
fraudulently obtained driver's licenses in other states.
Reigrut, who's the chief of staff in the office of Sen. Andrew Harris,
R-Baltimore County, said he used his government experience to navigate the
system and fight off every negative mark on his credit history. But he can't
measure the amount of time he's spent on the problem.
The FTC says it costs the average victim more than $1,000 to clean up
mess left by an identity thief.
Whoever did it to Reigrut is still at large. Reigrut's not certain how
happened - but he suspects it started when he allowed a business to make
photocopy of his driver's license.
"When you find out someone is trying to use your name fraudulently, you
want to do anything and everything you can to protect yourself," he
To minimize the chances of it happening again - in any way - Reigrut's
bought two paper shredders. He now also refuses to allow his license to
"This may be one of those prices of being in the Internet age, but it's
certainly not a price worth paying," he said. "It's horrifying."