Bellevue police reportedly uncovered evidence in a seemingly sophisticated identity-theft ring run from a home in Highland Park, and have arrested 5 people in connection to the crimes. The Seattle Times described that investigators first observed a stolen vehicle and then obtained search warrants, finding all kinds of suspicious content. They found stolen drivers licenses, credit cards, and documents of many people, and equipment to make fake IDs. They also found a stolen ballistic-protection vest and badge as well as narcotics and a stun gun in the stolen vehicle. The group was arrested on suspicion on possession of stolen property and identity theft, and police are contacting the victims.

Please see below for a description of identity theft law in Washington State and tips for reducing your risk of identity theft.

Identity Theft Law in Washington State (RCW 9.35.020):

  • If a person knowingly obtains, possesses, uses, or transfers someone’s personal identification or financial information with the intent to commit crime, or to aid or abet any crime, they are committing the crime of identity theft. This includes identifying information for anyone, living or dead.
  • If the value of goods, services, credit, or money obtained is less than $1,500 or is not otherwise amounting to first-degree identity theft, it is considered second-degree identity theft, a Class C felony punishable according to Chapter 9a.20 RCW.
  • Identity theft resulting in obtaining more than $1,500 in value of goods, services, credit, or money constitutes first-degree identity theft and is a Class B felony offense, punishable according to Chapter 9a.20 RCW.
  • A person who violates this section is liable for civil damages of $1,000 or actual damages, whichever is greater, including costs to repair the victim’s credit record, and reasonable attorneys’ fees as determined by the court.

Reduce your risk:

Identity thieves are resourceful and cannot always be stopped, but it is wise to take precautions to secure your information to make it harder for them and reduce the risk of this happening to you.  Please review these tips for decreasing your chances of becoming an identity theft victim:

  • Be careful with your mail, promptly removing mail from your mailbox and requesting a vacation hold on your mail if you are going to be gone awhile.
  • Keep your financial documents and records locked up in a safe place at home. Limit what you carry when you go out.
  • Protect your medical information (destroy prescription labels and don’t share your health plan information)
  • Read your account and billing statements, looking for any unusual charges.
  • Review your credit reports regularly.
  • Shred sensitive documents (receipts, checks, bank statements, insurance forms, etc)
  • Secure your Social Security Number. Share only when necessary.
  • Beware of impersonators online or on the phone.
  • Protect your computer and mobile device. Use anti-virus software and don’t open files or download programs sent from unknown addresses.
  • Keep passwords private.
  • Don’t overshare on social networking sites.

Identity theft is a serious crime and can wreak havoc on you finances, your credit, and even your reputation. It is essential to act quickly to limit the damage and set things straight if this happens to you, but it can take time, money, and patience. Please see our prior blog post for some of the recommended actions to take in order to quickly mitigate the damage that could be done.