U.S. is cracking down on sites that sell fake IDs

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Congressional investigators and federal regulators are working together to crack down on Web sites selling fake identification cards to help curb the recent explosion of identity theft cases.

Criminals can use fake IDs, which can be found easily on the Internet or made with a home computer, to open bank or credit card accounts in someone else’s name. The scam, which has even happened to some lawmakers, has prompted congressional hearings and a more focused crackdown by investigators.

The Federal Trade Commission reports it receives about 1,700 calls per week to its identity-theft hotline, 1-877-ID-THEFT. The agency also publishes a Web site and printed pamphlet showing consumers how to protect themselves and take action against companies believed to be offering identity-theft tools.

This week, regulators announced that a federal court shut down a Web site that offered templates to help produce fake driver’s licenses and state identification cards.

The complaint alleges that Jeremy Martinez of Tarzana, Calif., sold 45 days of access to fake ID templates for $29.99. The site, identified in the complaint as ‘newid,’ contained "high-quality" templates for making fake driver’s licenses for several states, including California, New York and Florida.

"This is a no-brainer," the FTC’s director of consumer protection, Jodie Bernstein, said Monday. "Any business that empowers and encourages people to break the law should and will be shut down."

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, started an investigation last year into identity fraud on the Internet. She chairs the Senate’s subcommittee on investigations.

Kirk Walder, an investigator on the subcommittee, said they looked at more than 100 different Web sites and purchased some products undercover.

Walder said the committee bought an Oklahoma identification card from a Web site in Texas that was virtually identical to a real Oklahoma ID. It came in a plastic pouch marked "Not A Government Document," as required by law, but the card was easily removed from the pouch.

Walder said the Secret Service and Texas authorities shut down the site.

How a person can fall prey to identity fraud is limited only by the criminal’s imagination. Years ago, going through trash was a common way to grab prescreened credit card offers and other documents containing personal information.

But now, much of a person’s sensitive data can be found easily on the Internet. Criminals are also using e-mail to fool people into disclosing Social Security numbers, addresses and the like.

A Florida investigator told Collins’ subcommittee in May that over 30 percent of seized fake ID cards come from the Web.

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