Imagine you're out of work and looking for a job, like millions of other Americans. Now imagine that someone has stolen your identity and racked up thousands of dollars in debt. This nightmare scenario came to life for some job seekers in Ohio.

Starbucks: ID to Go

HMSHost provides food, beverage and other retail services in airports all over the world. At Hopkins International Airport in Cleveland, Ohio, HMSHost managed a Starbucks, where Chantay Ware worked. She was doing a lot more than making lattes, too.

According a federal indictment filed by the US Attorney in Cleveland, Ware was an identity thief. She's accused of using personal information supplied by job seekers on their employment applications, as well as personal information of friends and minor children, to get about 65 credit cards. From 2006 to 2008 she racked-up over $115,000 in bogus charges.

Ware's charged with crimes of access device fraud and aggravated identity theft. If convicted, she faces a fine, several years in prison, or both.

Big Problem

In 2009, millions of Americans filed fraud-related complaints with various federal agencies, including the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The most complained-of crime was identity theft, and recognized as the fastest growing crime in the US.

In it's most common form, as shown by the Ohio Starbucks case, a thief gets hold of your personal information - social security number, birth day, address, etc. - and pretends to be you. Thieves get credit cards and loans in their victims' names and buy goods and services online. US consumers lost about $5 billion to identity thieves in 2009.

The Starbucks case also shows how identity theft can take place over the course of years and without the victims even knowing that it's happening to them.

Protect Yourself

There are many things you can do to protect you and your family from identity theft, such as:

  • Order your free credit report each year, read it carefully, and update any incorrect information
  • Balance your checkbook each month. Many thieves don't take hundreds or thousands all at once, but rather take a little - like $25 or less - because it's less noticeable
  • See what personal information is out there about you. Personal Reports* gives you employment, insurance and other information about you that's collected or stored by local, state and federal agencies and various businesses
  • Don't hand out your personal information without asking questions. Most employers won't ask for your social security number or other sensitive information until after you're offered a job. If an employer - like the Starbucks in Ohio - asks for it on an employment application, think twice before giving it
  • Shred mail that contains personal information like bank account and credit card numbers; don't just throw them in the trash
  • Report suspicious activity to the FTC

There are many more things you can do to prevent identity theft. Make every effort to do as much as possible to stop the fastest growing crime from catching up with you.

* Personal Reports, like Lawyers.com, is owned by LexisNexis, a part of Reed Elsevier, Inc.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Can my credit card company force me to repay debt that I didn't authorize or approve?
  • Should I call the local police if I think I've been the victim of identity theft?
  • Is it illegal for someone to go though my trash and look for personal information?

Tagged as: Consumer Law, Consumer Banking, identity theft, identity theft lawyer