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Identity theft has continued to rise, but Iowa has stayed at the bottom of the list

BY JORDYN REILAND | MARCH 05, 2012 6:30 AM

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Identity theft continues to raise countrywide concern, according to a 2011 Federal Trade Commission report, but Iowa faces less of the crime than other states.

Iowa, with 1,208 identity theft complaints in 2011, ranks 45th out of the 50 states.

Yet local police officials said identity theft is relatively prevalent in Iowa City.

According to records from the Iowa City police, there was one filed complaint of identity theft in 2011. Yet, Sgt. Dave Droll said, many cases are not officially filed.

"It's not that uncommon for someone to report that their identity has been stolen," he said. "We do probably have several a week."

One state expert said an increase in technology may have sparked an increase in identity theft cases nationwide.

"Twenty-five years ago, [scams] came through the mail … now so much of it is done electronically," said Bill Brauch, the director of the Consumer Protection Division at the Iowa Attorney General's Office.

The new electronic technology has provided both relief and concern for retailers and residents.

"We have had your traditional Dumpster-diver thefts; it's still around," Brauch said, referring to scammers who rifle through trash for personal information on discarded mail. "Today, it is so much easier for the scam artist sitting at the computer to intercept transmissions anywhere in the world."

But one FTC official said the new technology might also help catch identity thefts.

"It's not an all-or-nothing kind of thing," said Steven Toporoff, a director in the division of privacy and identity protection. "Technology has made it possible to detect and deter a certain amount of identity theft."

A large percentage of identity theft is related to the misuse of a credit card, he said, but new technology has helped customers communicate with credit-card companies about possible fraudulent charges. In 2011, Iowa had 215 reported credit-card frauds.

Despite the possible deterrence, Brauch said attempts at electronic identity theft have still seen an increase nationwide.

"You have seen a tremendous uptick in the last 10 years in the number of electronic attempts because of the growth of the Internet and technology," Brauch said.

But overall, officials said Iowa has been proactive against identity theft.

"We have a lower incidence than average," Brauch said. "I think Iowans have done a pretty good job identifying [scams] and not falling for them."

States with lower identity-theft rates than Iowa included West Virginia, Montana, and Maine.

David Torok, head of the FTC's planning and communications unit, said identity theft will continue to pose a problem for consumers until those consumers learn how to protect themselves.

"Identity theft is still a significant problem given the number of complaints we receive, and it's a challenging one to correct," he said. "We try to encourage consumers to be very wary and realize that this crime goes on out there."


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