Cracking Down On Identity Theft

Identity Theft graphic
Waging a new campaign against identity theft, U.S. postal inspectors throughout the West are tracking down scores of suspected mail thieves, reports CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone.

"At this time 96 suspects have been apprehended throughout northern California, and that continues to grow," said U.S. Postal Service spokesman John Wisniewski.

Officials announced Tuesday that what was stolen from mailboxes – credit cards, Social Security numbers, bank accounts – provided the raw material for criminals to steal whole identities.

"The fact of the matter is that one's mail is a veritable treasure trove for would-be identity thieves," says Larry Brown, assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California.

"They can do some great damage to people's credit reports," says Bert Pollaci, who runs a huge San Francisco apartment complex where mailboxes were being robbed every few weeks.

"The guy would come in and take a pry bar behind the Postal Service locks and pry the whole thing open," Pollaci says.

But soon after security cameras were installed, the thief was caught in the act. When he was arrested, police discovered 10,000 pieces of mail.

"He had a filing system with each individual separated out – their credit cards, their Social Security numbers," says U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan.

For the victims, straightening up their financial life can become a full time job.

The woman who stole Esther DeAnda's identity is now behind bars, but DeAnda is still trying to clear up the mess in her credit report

"She serves her time and comes out clean; probably has better credit than I do," DeAnda says.

And to prove that no one is immune to identity theft, the U.S. Attorney who announced Tuesday's arrests also announced that he is a victim.

"I have to change all my credit cards, all my bank accounts, my retirement accounts, everything was stolen. And we're dealing with that and it's not fun, I can tell you," says Kevin Ryan.

Last year the Federal Trade Commission received more than 160,000 complaints from victims of identity theft. The Post Office says the first line of defense is to pick up your mail before someone else does.