Those in the greatest danger of being victimized by identity theft -- college students and young adults -- Thursday night heard a wide-ranging discussion on the fast-growing crime and ways to prevent it.
The symposium at the University of Northern Colorado touched on the controversial Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid at the Greeley Swift & Co. plant last year when 262 workers were arrested. Most were detained for being in the country illegally, but 25 were arrested for suspicion of identity theft, forgery and criminal impersonation.
Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, responding to a student question about whether he felt the raid was a positive or negative for Greeley, said, "If you talk about employment in the community I think it sent a message. We got a lot less complaints from people out of state about identity theft after that operation."
He referred to past years when the DA's office fielded complaints from people in other states who said they were victimized by the use of false identities to get jobs at Swift.
He said the large scale of the raid -- part of a sweep that targeted 1,300 undocumented workers at Swift plants nationwide -- caused anxiety in the community among families, schools and other workplaces. "When you start to enforce the law, you're starting to put an awful lot of people at risk," Buck said.
Other panelists at the two-hour symposium were Janet Drake, Colorado assistant attorney general, and Sara Allen, director of the regional Consumer Credit Counseling Service.
Buck said cases of identity theft, which include criminal impersonation, now surpass drug trafficking as the most-perpetuated crime nationally.
Holly Langsdorf, a UNC student and member of Students in Free Enterprise, organizers of the panel, cited a 2006 Federal Trade Commission report that states identity theft occurs every 79 seconds in the United States. Colorado had 4,395 victims in 2006, up 84 percent from 2003.
"It's rampant," Langsdorf said, noting that people ages 18 to 29 are most affected.
When Buck asked how many in the audience of about 60 had been victims of a vehicle break-in, about half raised hands.
"One of the main ways people get information is breaking in a car, stealing a purse or wallet they see in the console and they're off and running," he said.
The penalty in Weld County for a first-time identity theft offense is probation, he said, while a second offense carries prison terms of two to 12 years.
"In Weld County, on a second conviction for this, they're going to light you up," he said. "You're going to do some time."
While he didn't give specific percentages, Buck said the perpetrators of identity theft are changing in Weld County. "We've seen a shift from meth (addicts), not 100 percent, but toward illegal immigrants using it to get jobs."
Drake said her office is seeing identity theft appear more frequently on mortgage loan applications.
Individual consumers can protect themselves by keeping close tabs on all personal identification cards and financial records. "We have a saying in my office -- fight fraud, shred instead," Drake said. "It's sort of a silly thing, but if you shred your bank statements and deposit slips ... it goes a long way in preventing you from becoming a victim."
Both Drake and Allen said the sooner people report becoming a victim the less liability they will suffer.
One student asked Buck if Greeley's reputation of having widespread identity theft and illegal immigrants has contributed to UNC's declining enrollment.
"There are so many factors involved in your choice in a school that an immigration issue here or a gang issue here or other things like that would be a small reason someone would choose to come here or not to come here," Buck said.
Info on ID theft
The Colorado Attorney General's Office has produced an Identity Theft Repair Kit. It can be ordered by calling (303) 866-4500 or 1-800-222-4444 or go online at www.ago.state.co.us/idtheft/IDTheft.cfm