To help local police officers better understand and investigate these crimes, an electronic package is being mailed out Tuesday to more than 40,000 police departments and other law enforcement authorities, the Secret Service said Monday.
"If you're a victim of identity crime, you're not going to call a Secret Service agent; you're going to call your local police department," said Richard Starmann, one of the Secret Service's main point people on the project.
"What we were finding ... was that some of them knew what to do. Some had a lot of experience working this type of crime. But the great majority of them didn't really have the experience they needed to work this type of crime," Starmann said.
The materials include a 10-minute video that can be shown to officers during roll call meetings, which often take place before daily shifts begin. In the video, law enforcers share their experiences in combating identity crimes and what works for them.
An electronic guide provides officers with more than 40 investigative resources that officers can use in their investigations as well as a variety of information to help victims.
For instance, included in the electronic guide are materials from the Federal Trade Commission that advise victims to contact:
* Credit bureaus and request that a "fraud alert" be placed in their files.
* Creditors to see if any accounts have been used or fraudulently opened.
* Their local police departments to file a crime report.
For local police officers, there's a wide range of materials, including questions to ask and things to look for when conducting identity crime investigations; the best way to seize electronic evidence; and advice on how to detect bogus credit cards and passports.
Starmann said identity thieves have various reasons to engage in these types of crimes. Among them are personal gain, to buy goods and services; financial gain, to bankroll other criminal activities, such as drugs and weapons trafficking or terrorism; and help in moving anonymously through society for any number of reasons.
Roughly 10 months in the making, the electronic materials package is a project of the Secret Service, the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Timothy Caddigan, the Secret Service's special agent in charge of the criminal investigative division, said the electronic materials cost $250,000 to produce and distribute. The project was paid for with money forfeited in criminal cases involving the Treasury Department, he said.
Complaints about identity theft were at the head of the government's list of consumer frauds in 2002 for a third consecutive year. Experts blame easily available technology.