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It was colorful stuff, all 40 minutes of it, geared to draw attention to a crime that Orput described as the fastest-growing in Washington County.
Nine months into his first year as county attorney, Orput has hit the road to talk crime prevention. In Afton, he was so persuasive on the topic of identity theft that one audience member wondered if "public hangings" were in order for those who'd ring up princely sums on someone else's credit.
Orput wasn't about to go that far, but he wasn't minimizing the threat posed by identity thieves, either. "The end result: Your credit is destroyed," he said at one point during the Sept. 20 presentation.
Identity thieves strike in different ways. Some smash windows to grab purses from cars. Others snatch mail from mailboxes. Still others pose as representatives of legitimate companies on the phone or over the Internet. The goal is to steal personal information -- credit card numbers, driver's license information or Social Security numbers -- to buy goods or commit some other fraudulent act in another person's name. Nationally, he said, the crimes claim more than 500,000 new victims per year.
Orput said he didn't know how many cases were pending in Washington County. Often, identity theft cases involve multiple charges, and his office tracks cases only by the first count in each complaint. But he cited several recent examples of identity theft offenses:
•Woodbury police uncovered computer equipment and evidence of stolen information, including Social Security numbers, during a search last year of a Hampton Inn hotel room. The investigation revealed that one victim's checking accounts had been accessed to purchase flat-screen televisions in Amery, Wis. Credit reports also had been run on numerous victims. One reported that a Kay Jewelers account had been opened in his name. A 27-year-old woman from Dundas, Minn., is awaiting trial in the case, records show.
•Earlier this year, a 31-year-old St. Paul man was sentenced to nearly two years in prison after his aunt, who lives in Oakdale, discovered he'd used stolen information to open a Best Buy account in her name -- plus another name she had never heard of -- to buy $4,073 worth of merchandise, including four laptop computers.
•A 27-year-old Woodbury man faces 13 counts of identity theft after allegedly hacking Facebook accounts, duping young women into becoming friends and then stealing their photos to post on sex-oriented websites. "These young ladies are devastated," the county attorney said.
Orput is a former Hennepin County prosecutor with a fondness for colorful description. In Afton, he often spoke like a character from a pulp novel.
Thieves covet Social Security numbers because they are a "unique identifying tool," he said, "the key to going after you real hard."
Of a recent Woodbury theft, he said: "It was 'BAM! Katie bar the door. Off they go to the races.'"
Pulling up the surveillance image of a suspect in a previous case, he said that authorities sometimes get lucky chasing thieves, "and we pop them when they're doing the crime." In the case of that suspect, authorities searched her car and found Best Buy receipts in one person's name and checks in the names of two others.
He advised against putting bill payments in personal mailboxes for pickup. Flipping up the red flag not only alerts mail carriers, but identity thieves, too, he said. And be on the lookout, he added, for phony correspondence from a fake Wells Fargo or eBay website seeking account information for verification purposes. By sending the information requested, you didn't let Wells Fargo know, Orput said, "you let some mope in Bulgaria know."
Current scams include people phoning senior citizens claiming to be a grandchild arrested overseas.
"You say, 'I'll call you back,'" Orput said.
But if it is too late, and you have been victimized, close your accounts immediately.
"You're done," he said.
Other tips: Carry only one credit card, Orput said, and never your Social Security card. Shred all junk mail before putting it into the recycling bin. Never leave a wallet, purse or personal digital assistant (PDA) in your car when running errands or going for a walk, jog or bike ride.
"Identity theft will -- OK, not will, that's too dramatic" -- can happen to anyone, Orput told his Afton audience.
Before departing, he offered to return as part of an ongoing campaign to help citizens guard against crime. His office was willing to talk about truancy, too, he said, and about protecting children on the Internet.
There is no need, he added, to be seeing one another in court. That's the time, he said, "when I can thump on the bad guys."
Anthony Lonetree • 651-925-5036