Identity Theft: From a detective’s point of view

REGION – Imagine going to your bank for a business loan only to discover that somewhere along the line, someone had gotten their hands on one of your business accounts that you rarely use (and rarely check). The result? Potentially significant financial damage and a tarnished credit reputation.

Identity theft occurs when an individual is utilizing someone else's identity to obtain credit. All it takes is a social security number or a credit card number to get the thief started.

While it's easier than ever before to have your identity stolen (if you aren't careful), there are also more ways to guard against it, too. Perhaps the best preventative is diligence. That means checking credit card accounts regularly – weekly, at best, and monthly, at a minimum – according to local law enforcement officials. Requesting an annual credit report at is also strongly recommended. Det. Nathan Ritter of the Grand Traverse County Sheriff's Office says identity theft cases in the county have remained steady over the last several years. He handles between 12-15 cases annually. But he emphasizes that one case can – and often does – have multiple victims.

"The overall number might seem low, but you can have a lot of victims," Det. Ritter says.

Identity theft falls under the broader category of fraud in the sheriff department's tracking system. In 2011, the Grand Traverse County Sheriff Department logged 77 fraud complaints overall, Ritter says, and he expects identity theft cases to trend upward in the future.

Det. Ritter highlights a couple of cases in the last few years in which individuals now behind bars used their workplaces to snag identities and then went on shopping sprees. In one case, a man working for a local car dealership was taking car loan applications and stealing confidential personal and financial information. He had 12 victims and more than 50 loan applications in his possession.

Another case involved a night auditor at an area hotel who took customers' credit cards into an office to "check them in," but instead was writing down their account numbers and three-digit security codes on a slip of paper. He had eight different victims in all.

But cases in which the identity stealer is across the country or halfway around the globe are just as common. "Remember, the offender in identity theft can be sitting anywhere in the world preying on victims and thus not easily identified and prosecuted," says Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Oltersdorf, who himself has been a victim.

Information destruction

Protecting your personal and business information is a full-time business for Traverse City-based Profile, which offers records and information management for companies and organizations across northern Michigan. In addition to providing proper and safe storage for documents you should keep (see list at left), it also takes shredding to a whole new level. Certainly you've seen its ShredMonster truck around town, picking up documents too valuable to just throw away.

But how is it any different than your own office shredder? According to the company, shredded documents are relatively easy to put back together – there is even a service available that electronically "scans shreds" for the sole purpose of reconstructing documents. Instead, Profile combines documents from many businesses in one shredding process, making it virtually impossible to reconstruct a document. It then recycles all shredded materials. It also has many other safeguards in place for its shredding services that it maintains are rarely – if ever – in place in most workplaces. BN