Identity theft reaches epidemic proportions

HOUSTON Imagine someone stealing your personal information and selling it to the highest bidder. Local financial crimes investigators tell us this type of crime happens so often, identity theft is now an epidemic. They say it's not a matter of if you'll become a victim, but when.

Identity theft has become so widespread that the caseload for local investigators is extreme.

Sgt. Robert Gradney with the Harris County Sheriff's office said, "I have no doubt it's going to get worse."

Each of the eight investigators who work in the Harris County Sheriff's office financial crimes unit handle some 800 cases a year

"They really can victimize you over and over again," said Lt. Jeff Stauber.

What's more, the work keeps piling up as investigators often hit dead ends.

Sgt. Michael Ellison said, "The problem, and the frustrating thing for us, is it's extremely difficult to get these suspects or persons of interest identified."

Sure, investigators often end up with great surveillance video and pictures. The problem is they have no way of knowing who the person is. And the reality is, they may never find out. The number of unsolved cases is staggering. Last year only 13 percent of all active investigations were cleared. Every month authorities find themselves dealing with a new type of scam.

"They're pretty smart," said Lt. Stauber. "They have really refined the way they operate, I would say, over the last six or seven years."

Smart and elusive. It's almost like a game of cat and mouse. Identity theft has become a multi-billion dollar a year business. With the explosion of the internet, crimes committed using computers keeps this group of investigators the busiest.

Sgt. Gradney said, "Basically until we as a society take more of an interest in how we disperse our information, it's going to continue to be a problem."

Financial crimes investigators believe the current economy, in part, has spurred the increase in criminal activity.

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