Monday, June 23, 2008

Investigators: Court system unwittingly helping ID thieves


TACOMA, Wash. – Federal prosecutors have charged a man the KING 5 Investigators profiled last year with identity theft.

But that capture may reveal a more serious problem in the Washington state court system.

Curtis Leon Craft is charged with stealing 13 identities and about $120,000. mostly in Pierce County.

"The criminals are in the imagination business. If they can think up a way to commit identity theft. they will and they'll use it," said Social Security agent Joe Belling.

Craft is one of what the feds say is a growing number of identity thieves using legal name changes to commit their crimes.

In one afternoon, with few questions asked, a citizen can get a new name order signed by a judge and then take it to the Department of Licensing for a new identification.

"Not only are you using the courts. you're using the Department of Licensing, so you're getting legitimate agencies to assist you in committing a fraud." said Belling.

Last July. the KING 5 Investigators found more than 20 legal name changes by Craft, who used the new identities to open bank and credit card accounts. At that time, Social Security agents and King County Sheriff's detectives arrested a ring of identity thieves doing the same thing. They wrote bad checks and ran up credit cards until the accounts were closed and then started over again with a brand new court-ordered name change.

After King County courts realized what was happening. they made some changes to try and close the loophole. Pierce County has not made any changes. but a spokesperson says that system does do a background check on the criminal history of those who try to get their names changed.

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