Last week saw the crackdown on an Armenian gang crime ring, which specialized in identity theft. The gang was using skimming devices placed at 99 Cents Only stores throughout southern California, and 99 members of the more than 200-member organization were arrested.
The FBI has estimated that the gang stole more than $2 million from customer accounts by stealing their codes and then using the information to create counterfeit debit and credit cards. The money began to disappear from the accounts of the victims slowly, so they didn't even realize they were being ripped off.
It is clear that consumers are at a much greater risk than ever before, and not just of losing a few dollars. Criminals are getting more and more clever at siphoning off checking and savings accounts, and many have organized into sophisticated, organized crime rings that are, in many cases, more tech savvy than their victims.
Identity theft is no longer just a crime that affects consumers who buy products online. It's a crime being perpetrated by gang members who easily steal information from hardworking Americans buying items in the brick-and-mortar marketplace - including everything from gasoline to clothes to dinner at a restaurant.
Law enforcement personnel and the FBI need to become better educated about identity theft, and they must step up their surveillance and investigations. Exposing the American consumer to this level of identity theft is unacceptable. Without a concerted effort to break up such theft rings and the prosecution of these "white collar criminals" to the fullest extent of the law, consumers will suffer.
For their part, consumers must learn to protect themselves. Shred documentation bearing your personal information. Guard your credit and debit cards, and don't let them out of your sight. Monitor your credit reports and make sure your computer is equipped with the most up-to-date antivirus protection.
Don't rely on law enforcement to keep yourself safe. Get proactive - and take matters into your own hands. You can be sure that if you don't, some criminal will.