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Congressional investigators and federal regulators are working together to crack down on Web sites selling fake identification cards to help curb the recent explosion of identity theft cases. Criminals can use fake IDs, which can be found easily on the Internet or made with a home computer, to open bank or credit card accounts in someone else’s name. The scam, which has even happened to some lawmakers, has prompted congressional hearings and a more focused crackdown by investigators. The Federal Trade Commission reports it receives about 1,700 calls per week to its identity-theft hot line, 1-877-ID-THEFT. The agency also publishes a Web site and printed pamphlet showing consumers how to protect themselves, and take action against companies believed to be offering identity-theft tools. This week, regulators announced that a federal court shut down a Web site that offered templates to help produce fake driver’s licenses and state identification cards. The complaint alleges that Jeremy Martinez of Tarzana, Calif., sold 45 days of access to fake ID templates for $29.99. The site, identified in the complaint as “newid,” contained ”high quality” templates for making fake driver’s licenses for several states, including California, New York and Florida. ”This is a no-brainer,” the FTC’s director of consumer protection, Jodie Bernstein, said Monday. ”Any business that empowers and encourages people to break the law should and will be shut down.” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, started an investigation last year into identity fraud on the Internet. She chairs the Senate’s subcommittee on investigations. Kirk Walder, an investigator on the subcommittee, said they looked at over 100 different Web sites, and bought some products undercover. Walder said the committee bought an Oklahoma identification card from a Web site in Texas which was virtually identical to a real Oklahoma ID. It came in a plastic pouch marked ”Not A Government Document,” as required by law, but the card was easily removed from the pouch. Walder said the Secret Service and Texas authorities shut down the site. Collins recently introduced a bill passed by the Senate that would make it a crime to use computers to produce or sell so-called ”novelty” fake IDs. The measure also would make it easier to prosecute these cases. The House is expected to pass the bill soon. How a person can fall prey to identity fraud is limited only by the criminal’s imagination. Years ago, going through trash was a common way to grab prescreened credit card offers and other documents containing personal information. But now, much of a person’s sensitive data can be found easily on the Internet. Criminals are also using e-mail to fool people into disclosing Social Security numbers, addresses and the like. A Florida investigator told Collins’ subcommittee in May that over 30 percent of seized fake ID cards come from the Web. The ID templates can be used with a passport-sized photo and a computer printer to create a valid-looking license. The site also offered birth certificate templates, regulators said. The case against Martinez is before the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The court shut down the site pending a judgment. Martinez could not be reached Tuesday for comment. Eileen Harrington, associate director for marketing practices at the FTC, said she hopes consumers come forward to the FTC with fraud complaints, and more lawsuits against fake ID sites are likely. ”This is something that we’re very concerned about,” Harrington said. ”People should expect to see more action of various sorts out of the FTC directed at these kinds of sites.” Copyright 2000 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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