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Homosexual rights activists gain influence in public schools (10/17/04)

Church’s prayer births children’s ministry (10/17/04)

Partner program revitalizes dying church (10/10/04)

Church music festival attracts variety of visitors (10/10/04)

Churches urge compassion for alienated smokers (9/19/04)

Youth ride wooden waves in church parking lots (9/12/04)

A/G, COGIC join forces through inner-city campus (9/12/04)

Christians respond to victimized women and children (8/29/04)

Growing slavic church shares new facility (8/29/04)

Couple embarks on capitol prayer tour (8/29/04)

ADHD requires multifaceted treatment approach (8/22/04)

Small congregation grows — by planting churches (8/22/04)

‘Under God’ stays in Pledge of Allegiance, at least for now (8/8/04)

Church reaches out to those feeling loss (8/8/04)

Churches act pre-emptively to reduce risk of abuse (7/25/04)

Credit cards ensnare record number of Americans (7/25/04)

Church helps out with donated CD, recycled buses (7/25/04)

New wave of pastors minister to emerging adults (7/18/04)

‘Walking Witnesses’ raise thousands for missions (7/18/04)

Healing center offers alternative medicine (7/18/04)

Growing number of Hispanics impact economy (7/11/04)

'Busy' couple finds time for compassion ministry (7/11/04)

Hand-copied Bible leaves 40-year legacy (7/11/04)

Pastor ends hunger strike when strip club promises to sell (6/27/04)

‘Military survival kit’ requests inundate A/G (6/27/04)

Fourth of July outreach draws thousands (6/27/04)

Drivers warned to steer clear of distractions (6/27/04)

Pastors face more counseling demands (6/20/04)

Church uses touch of ‘flavor’ to reach community (6/20/04)

Outrageous self-expression often starts, stops at home (6/13/04)

Runner raises $5,200 for Convoy of Hope (6/13/04)

Euphemisms tempt Christians to conveniently shed sin, guilt (5/30/04)

Funds for Easter play buy groceries instead (5/30/04)

Identity theft threatens millions of Americans (5/23/04)

Spanish speakers face challenges, opportunities in United States culture (5/16/04)

Health experts implore Americans to get fit (5/9/04)

Leaders say Christian faith stems recidivism (4/25/04)

Riders feel at home in Orlando sanctuary (4/18/04)

Churches try to keep human touch with new media (4/11/04)

Christians see Passion as ministry opportunity (3/28/04)

Tutoring improves lives, opens doors for evangelism (3/21/04)

Cybertheft costly — especially for Christians (3/14/04)

A/G women seize new ministry opportunities (2/29/04)

Investment in early spiritual maturity reaps rewards (2/22/04)

Christian families respond to foster care opportunities (2/15/04)

Childless couples grapple with emotional roller coaster, faith challenges (2/8/04)

Few men seek help from abortion grief, guilt (1/18/04)

Women who answer God's call provide valuable local ministries (1/11/04)

2003 PE Report stories

Frontline Reports

2002 PE Report stories

2001 News Digest stories

2000 News Digest stories

Identity theft threatens millions of Americans

By Kirk Noonan (5/23/04)

Phil Baker became a victim of identity theft, one of America’s fastest-growing crimes, and he didn’t even know it — until a creditor from a jewelry store called him at work to question why he was delinquent on nearly $5,000 in purchases.

“Whoever stole my identity went on a one-month, nonstop spending spree,” says Baker, 31, who attends Portland Christian Center, an Assemblies of God church in Oregon. “I don’t even know how the person stole my identity.”

The thief rang up nearly $40,000 worth of merchandise by using Baker’s identity. Doing as experts recommend, Baker immediately took action. He contacted the three national credit-reporting organizations (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) to place a fraud alert on his name and Social Security number. He also filed a police report. But the real work lay ahead of him.

Baker, who was in the process of buying a house, spent much of his time during the next month calling creditors, writing them letters and sending them documentation in order to clear his name and clean up his credit report.

“You work hard to maintain good credit and it gets ruined in the span of two months,” says Baker. “Having to deal with all of that while trying to buy a house was a hassle.”

Baker represents one of an estimated 10 million people who have identities stolen in the United States each year. Besides the time people spend clearing their name, the financial costs of identity theft are staggering.

Businesses and financial institutions lose an estimated $50 billion and consumers lose $5 billion annually as a result of the problem. But there are other costs, too. Some people have missed out on employment opportunities or have been arrested for crimes they did not commit. Others have been denied loans for cars, houses and education because their credit was in shambles.

“This is truly the crime of the century, and it is devastating,” says Mari J. Frank, an attorney, consultant and author of The Identity Theft Survival Kit. “If it can happen to Oprah Winfrey, lawyers and doctors, it can happen to you.”

According to Frank and other experts, thieves rely on many strategies to lift identities. It ranges from stealing a person’s wallet or purse to skimming (using an electronic device to record data off of the magnetic strips on credit cards) to complex telemarketing and Internet scams that dupe people out of confidential information such as passwords, addresses, Social Security numbers, and credit card and bank account numbers.

Recently, an identity thief pulled an elaborate scam known as “phishing” by sending e-mails that appeared to originate from America Online. In the scam, receivers of the e-mail were warned that their account would be canceled if they didn’t respond. The scammer went so far as to include links in the e-mail that led to a fake AOL billing center where customers were asked for confidential information.

While a truly determined identity thief is difficult to stop, there are steps consumers can take to minimize their risk. Frank advocates identity-theft protection because many people have their personal data lifted because the confidential information was within easy reach of criminals. To make identity theft more difficult, Frank recommends:

• Review your credit report at least twice a year.
• Shred all important papers containing personal and financial information, including preapproved credit applications in a cross-cut type shredder.
• Make sure not to throw anything away that someone could use to “become” you.
• Remove your name from telemarketing lists and preapproved offers. Call: 1-888-5-OPTOUT.
• Get personal checks delivered to your financial institution — not to your home.
• Do not put checks in the mail from your home mailbox.
• Cancel all credit cards that you do not use or have not used in six months.
• Put passwords on all your accounts and do not use your mother’s maiden name.
• Don’t carry your birth certificate, Social Security card or passport unless necessary.
• Never give out personal information to a person you don’t know who calls you at home or at work.
• Do not put your Social Security or telephone number on your checks.
• Do not give your credit card account number on the Internet (unless it is encrypted on a secured site).
• Take your name off all promotional lists.

If you believe your identity has been stolen, the Federal Trade Commission recommends that you call the three major credit card bureaus and have them place a fraud alert on your credit line. Victims also should close all accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. A police report should be filed, as should a complaint with the FTC.

“I thought it would never happen to me,” says Baker. He was able to buy his house, though identity theft made the process more complicated than it would have been otherwise. “People need to safeguard their information, because once they’ve been victimized it’s too late.”

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