CORRECTED-YOUR MONEY-Identity thieves go shopping for Apple products

Mon Jan 7, 2013 1:46pm EST
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(In the 9th paragraph, corrects first name of fraud investigator to Vicki from Vicky)

By Mitch Lipka

Jan 7 (Reuters) - Carol Stuber was going through her mail and stumbled on a bill that made no sense - $3,300 for goods purchased from Apple using an instant-approved financing plan. "I said, 'What the heck is this?" she recalls.

Stuber, 70, a longtime tax preparer of Westbury, New York, had not applied for any credit plan or received any merchandise from the company.

The bill was a result of identity theft -- a crime that affects about 8 million to 12 million people every year and cost $18 billion last year, according to federal government statistics and studies by the firm Javelin Strategy & Research.

While data breaches are often blamed for identity theft -- helping fuel a $3.5 billion credit monitoring industry -- it often stems from something much simpler. Selling a used computer or smart phone can lead to all sorts of problems, as Stuber suspects was the cause in her situation.

Since she first realized her identity had been stolen about two years ago, she has seen all sorts of attempts to run up bills in her name and has a pretty good understanding of how the crooks do what they do. Indeed, Stuber, who has been a tax preparer for decades, even found that someone else put in for a tax refund in her name.

In this latest case for Stuber, a thief armed with stolen identity information -- a Social Security number and other identifying details -- used it to apply for "instant credit" financing on to help pay for an iPad, Mac or other expensive gadgets. The mean amount of money spent in 2011 on online purchases when a victim's information was fraudulently obtained was $1,357, Javelin says.

"Apparently, they just apply online for it, and if they know enough answers they get the loan," Stuber says.   Continued...