By JOHN HOWELL Next to Kansas, Rhode Island had the greatest increase in identity theft - a whopping 1,002.3 percent - from 2019 to 2020, according to a report completed by QuoteWizard, a LendingTree company, and one of the nation's online insurance
Next to Kansas, Rhode Island had the greatest increase in identity theft – a whopping 1,002.3 percent – from 2019 to 2020, according to a report completed by QuoteWizard, a LendingTree company, and one of the nation’s online insurance marketplaces.
The report found that 1,145 Rhode Islanders reported identity theft in 2019. That number soared to 12,621 in 2020. Nationwide analysts found the rate of identity theft increased 114 percent.
The numbers look to be even worse than what QuoteWizard is reporting.
Lt. Matthew Salisbury, officer in charge of financial crimes with the Rhode Island State Police, said Wednesday that there are 87,000 confirmed victims of unemployment compensation fraud since April of 2020. He said that when the CARES Act unemployment funding kicked in last April, the department was receiving 1,000 confirmed victims daily. Those numbers have tapered off to 300 to 350 daily.
Salisbury said personal identity information was obtained from massive security breaches. It was then sold over the “dark web” to individuals who either sat on it until a catastrophic situation, such as the pandemic, where a government program kicked in, or used it on a smaller scale.
He said State Police have been working with the FBI, IRS and Postal Inspector. A task force officer is currently working with the FBI.
QuoteWizard found the sharp increase in identity theft reports started during the pandemic and is largely tied to a sharp increase in government documents and benefits fraud.
“The increase in identity theft is staggering and comes at a difficult time. Criminals have increasingly targeted unemployment benefits, stimulus programs and other new relief efforts meant to help people who are really struggling,” said Nick VinZant, senior research analyst and insurance expert with QuoteWizard.
Col. Brad Connor of Warwick Police likewise attributes the increase to government benefits fraud. He said the increase in local fraud has not been as pronounced.
Connor had the department conduct a search for calls for service regarding “fraud” to find an increase of 32 percent from 2019 to 2020 (577 calls for service in 2019 vs. 762 calls in 2020).
“There are several different types of fraud cases; many which involve identity theft. Even when you get into identity theft there are a myriad of different types of cases. Unfortunately our computer system isn’t capable of pulling specific types of cases to see better statistics. In speaking to my detectives they indicate that they haven’t seen any recognizable increase in identity theft cases aside from the unemployment schemes that are being handled at the state level,” he said.
Salisbury said the department is asking that all victims of this fraud visit the following websites:
* risp.ri.gov: This is the official website of the Rhode Island State Police. At the top of the home page you will find an orange banner that contains a link to an electronic form. When clicking the banner, a blank form will populate requesting that information be entered into required fields. There has been concern from other victims about entering their Social Security number. The best explanation that can be offered is that your personal information was compromised in a previous data breach and is now being used for illegal purposes. The information that you provide in our form is encrypted for additional protection before it is forwarded to the RI DLT. DLT needs all the information required to successful locate, cross reference and stop the fraudulent claim.
* identitytheft.gov: This is the federal government’s one-stop resource for identity theft victims. The site provides streamlined checklists and sample letters to guide you through the recovery process. This website will provide a step-by-step process on how to report the theft of your identity at the National Center or Disaster Fraud, justice.gov/disaster-fraud/webform/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form, as well as provide a recovery plan and how to implement that plan.
* annualcreditreport.com: This website will allow you a free credit check once every calendar year with one of the three larger credit reporting agencies.