CBS News Correspondent Cynthia Bowers reports about one unsuspecting victim and the criminal who stole his identity.
Mark Frank, a Boeing engineer, lives a pretty buttoned-down life. But last November, his very orderly existence began to come undone.
He received a call from his wife who said, "You know, Honey, we've lost everything we've got in our account. They've taken all our money."
Someone didn't just steal Frank's money; the parties involved stole his name and Frank became yet another victim of identity theft, a crime he'd never even heard of until he received a call from a Denver police detective.
The detective asked if he knew that someone was going around writing checks in his name. "He's got your name, address, account numbers," said the detective.
Richard Darrow was an identity thief extraordinaire. Armed with an MBA and a little computer know-how, Darrow transformed himself from a geek to a gangster and turned Frank's life upside down.
Darrow knew where Frank worked, how much he made, his money market account numbers, savings account numbers, checking account numbers - anything needed to defraud a man, Darrow says.
"His information became available to me, I believe, when I was digging around in a dumpster behind a mortgage company," says Darrow.
| The U.S. government has a central Web site for information on identity theft|
including material from a variety of government agencies.
"On a good day I could make $5,000 in cash and another $7,000 to $8,000 in merchandise," says Darrow.
Supported by a ring of nine accomplices, he assumed the identity of no fewer than 75 people, including Frank.
Frank says he felt violated, "almost like you've been raped."
Darrow went so far as to replace the security information on Frank's credit file, so that if Frank were asked, for example, to confirm himother's maiden name, he wouldn't have been able to.
"So that even if he had gone into some place like a Best Buy or to Circuit City and he wanted to write a check, they would have thought that he was the one that was doing so fraudulently," says Darrow.
Identity theft is part of a dramatic surge in white collar crime. In Denver and across the country, violent crime is down as criminals have turned instead to scams like identity theft that are a lot less dangerous and far more lucrative.
In response to this growing threat, Bill Ritter, Denver's district attorney now treats identity theft not as nickel-and-dime forgery, but as an organized crime, subject to racketeering laws.
"Our racketeering statute is a Class II felony in Colorado. That is the equivalent of second-degree murder, which is the second most serious class of felony that you can be convicted of," says Ritter.
Darrow, currently in jail in Colorado, is now cooperating with authorities, hoping to avoid a possible 48-year sentence for crimes he says were remarkably easy to pull off.
"The proficiency with which I could do it was frightening, even to me," says Darrow, adding, "I'd even become belligerent if they were questioning my identity."
Once a brazen name dropper, Darrow now seems contrite. For a while anyway, he'll be using his own name.
For more on on how difficult it can be for victims to clear their names and credit, even after authorities have been notified of fraud read "Credit Is Hard To Restore."
©1999, CBS Worldwide Inc., All Rights Reserved