Hawai'i ranks 6th in ID theft
By Greg Wiles
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Greg Wiles
Hawai'i has the sixth-worst record in the nation for identity theft and fraud, a new study shows.
"Local businesses and even national businesses need to be aware that Honolulu ... has a substantially higher identity fraud rate," said Stephen Coggeshall, author of the report by San Diego-based ID Analytics Inc.
"The problem is growing and has been growing," added Chris Van Marter, Honolulu deputy prosecuting attorney and head of a white-collar crime unit. "The problem is going to get worse before it gets better."
ID Analytics' survey included crimes committed by people using other people's identities and thieves attempting to apply for credit or buy goods using made-up names. Using false names or information comprised as many as nine out of every 10 cases of identity fraud nationwide, the study found.
Van Marter said it's difficult to quantify exactly how bad the identity fraud problem is locally because reporting the crime isn't uniform and good numbers are difficult to come by.
His office has prosecuted 300 cases over the past five years. The crime has hit a broad-range of people, with some of the more high-profile cases in Hawai'i involving stolen identities for prominent Honolulu attorney Bill McCorriston, state Intermediate Court of Appeals Judge John Lim and Honolulu Police Lt. Jeff Richards.
Losses can add up to tens of thousands of dollars while clearing up identity breaches sometimes takes months. Ron Brech, a Kailua resident who had his identity stolen by someone who was out on bond for another identity theft case, told a court that he was still encountering some credit problems a year after the theft problems were first detected.
Identity theft has received high-profile attention from state officials. Six bills were signed into law after last year's legislative session to offer more protections to consumers. Local companies also have picked up on the problem, with American Savings Bank and Island Insurance Co. offering identity theft recovery services as a perk to customers.
Identity theft "is a very serious problem in Hawai'i," Van Marter said.
ID Analytics examined applications for credit cards, retail credit and wireless phones and other data to find actual and attempted identity fraud. It found the fraudulent activity occurred in Hawai'i at 1.5 times the national rate, and was even higher in parts of urban Honolulu.
"Absolutely we can say these are areas that are risky areas with respect to identity fraud," Coggeshall said. "Those are hot spots."
The report contrasts with one last week from the Federal Trade Commission that focused solely on identity theft as reported by victims. ID Analytics' research was based on actual and attempted fraud rather than on victims' reports.
The FTC found the number of identity theft complaints it received from Hawai'i in 2006 declined to 615 from 810 a year earlier. Because of that, the state dropped to 39th in the FTC's identity-theft rankings from 25th in 2005.
Reach Greg Wiles at email@example.com.