MORTON GROVE, Ill. (STMW) — Identity theft continues to be one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States, and in north suburban Morton Grove incidents of identity theft have more than doubled from 2009 to 2010.

The Morton Grove Police Department received 25 reports of identity theft in 2010 — a sharp increase from the 11 cases logged in 2009 and the 15 local cases in 2008, said Morton Grove Police Cmdr. Michael Fujara.

While there’s no definite answer as to why Morton Grove has seen such a sharp increase, Fujara said one factor could be the high unemployment rate that has criminals more desperate.

“It’s a crime of opportunity — there are all kinds of scams out there where people get a hold of other people’s personal information and start opening checking accounts and credit cards under the victim’s name,” Fujara said.

The U.S. Bureau of Justice defines three types of identity theft: unauthorized use or attempted use of existing credit cards; unauthorized or attempted use of other accounts, such as checking accounts; and misuse of personal information to obtain new accounts or loans, or to commit other crimes.

Most of the cases of identity theft in Morton Grove resulted from someone breaking into a vehicle or home and then using either a stolen credit card to make purchases or stealing personal information from the victim and using it to open new accounts.

The Bally Total Fitness Center at 6821 Dempster St. has recently seen a spike in incidents of identity theft, Fujara said.

“(Bally) seems like a constant roller coaster where people are breaking into lockers and stealing personal belongings,” Fujara said. “What happens a lot is people will steal cash and credit cards, and go out and use the credit cards quickly at the gas station or Best Buy or another store because they figure the victim will discover the theft and alert their credit-card companies within a short period of time.”

Though gym patrons are encouraged to lock up their belongings, thieves have been able to get in by cutting locks or jimmying open the locker doors, Fujara said.

A Bally representative was unavailable to comment on the gym’s security.

Recent statistics from the Bureau of Justice show 11.7 million people in the U.S. have become a victim of identity theft within a two-year period.

Victims of identity theft experience a lot of frustration, and there’s not a lot local police departments can do to help.

“If it happens, the victim comes to us and we file a police report,” Fujara said. “Unfortunately a lot of it falls on deaf ears; if the crime happened in another jurisdiction — even out of state — we refer the case to that local agency, and if they get a good lead maybe something will happen.”

Fujara said perpetrators of identity theft are difficult to track because they use tricks like renting post-office boxes, which makes it nearly impossible to pinpoint their location. In many cases someone in another state opens a card in the victim’s name, and the victim doesn’t know until they’re alerted by their credit-card company.

U.S. Department of Justice statistics show that unauthorized use or attempted use of a credit card is the most common form of identity theft in the United States. It is also the most common in Morton Grove.

To lower the chances of becoming a victim Fujara suggests keeping close tabs on checking accounts and credit cards and also monitoring credit reports from all three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — regularly.

— Pioneer Press, via the Sun-Times Media Wire

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2011. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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