Al-Qaeda May Be Stealing Your ID: Stolen Credit Cards and Purloined Social Security Numbers, Fake Passports and Forged Documents-All Have Become Weapons of War for Terrorists. (Nation: Identity Theft)

Article excerpt

Al-Qaeda terrorist cells hiding in Spain used stolen credit cards to make numerous purchases, being careful to keep their spending below levels at which identification would be needed, according to the FBI. Extensive use of false passports and travel documents were used to open bank accounts where money for the mujahideen movement was sent to and from countries that include Pakistan and Afghanistan, according to Dennis Lormel, chief of the FBI's Terrorist Financial Review Group, in July testimony before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism and Government Information.

The FBI is using data-mining software to trace identity-theft activity, expecting that illegal use of stolen identification such as Social Security numbers (SSNs) will lead back to terrorists in the United States. According to Lormel, the FBI is tracking SSNs that have been identified in both current and past terrorism investigations.

Once identifiers such as SSNs are verified, Lormel said, investigators track the numbers through the records of immigration authorities, the military, departments of motor vehicles and other government or fee-based databases. Incidents of suspected misuse then are separated according to type, bundled into investigative packages and forwarded to the appropriate investigative and prospective teams for follow-up.

At a separate hearing, American Bar Association (ABA) officials also testified that identity theft is on the rise. Boris Melnikoff, a member of the ABA Fraud Prevention and Oversight Council, told the Senate Special Committee on Aging, "As technology and the Internet have made more information readily available--for better or for worse--we have redoubled our efforts to help educate consumers about how to prevent and resolve cases of identity theft. Banks and our customers are partners in protecting information."

But John and Mary Elizabeth Stevens are dubious about consumer education as a solution to identity theft, having been fighting such crime on their own without the resources of a government agency or industry technology. Indeed, they charge, "Identity theft is only possible with the full cooperation of three major participants: the impostor, the creditor and the credit bureau. All are coconspirators and equally guilty of identity theft." They also dispute industry claims that credit-card companies are victims of these crimes, calling them coconspirators as well.

According to these activists, "The perpetuation of identity theft has created a new product line for the credit bureaus, which now sell services alerting cardholders to significant changes on their credit reports." As John Stevens, a retired U.S. Air Force pilot, told the Senate Special Committee on Aging at a July hearing, "Protecting the integrity and ensuring the accuracy of information contained in a credit report should be a normal part of their operation and not just available to those willing to pay them for protection." Stevens says he spent much of his military career designing electronic-warfare aircraft and flying combat missions.

Since 1997, however, he and his wife have spent their retirement fighting the impostors who used their SSNs to open 33 fraudulent accounts on which the perpetrators charged $113,000. But, for all the government's gadgetry and electronic investigating in response to the terrorist acts of Sept. 11, Stevens proposes low-tech responses that almost anyone can use to detect likely SSN fraud. He also thinks access to SSNs must be better protected by the Social Security Administration (SSA), and that the numbers might best be restricted to Social Security purposes instead of used as a national identifier.

In lieu of returning the exclusivity of the SSN back to the SSA, agency Inspector General James Huse Jr. has called for legislative strengthening to help prevent identity theft. "We cannot return the SSN to its original limited function. …