Federal, local agencies form Identity Theft Task Force in Columbus

Officials at both the federal and local level are working together to tackle identity theft in the middle district of Georgia.

The U.S. Department of Justice led a press conference Monday announcing the formation of a Identity Theft Task Force in Columbus that will serve the district. The agencies contributing resources to the effort include the Columbus Police Department, Harris County Sheriff’s Office, United States Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Internal Revenue Service.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, there has been an increase in theft of personal identifying information from several large employers in and around the Columbus area. There have also been more local banks and check cashiers cashing stolen U.S. Treasury checks.

In 2013, Columbus was named the number two location in the country for stolen identity affidavits filed with the Federal Trade Commission, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Crimes involving identity theft have been rising at an enormous rate,” U.S. State Attorney Michael Moore said. “In 2014, we saw that Columbus dropped down from second to 22nd in the nation, but I tell you that there is still much work to be done.”

Moore mentioned a recent local case involving a woman named Danielle Wallace, who operated a Columbus tax preparation business. She was charged with wired fraud and aggravated identity theft after police suspected that she caused 187 fraudulent tax returns to be submitted.

The IRS lost $494,000 as a result, Moore said.

The U.S. attorney went on to explain how stealing and using personal information has the power to hurt so many.

“The damage that is done to the victim’s credit is overwhelming and the loss to the law-abiding tax payer is immense,” Moore said.

Moore took a moment to warn those who have considered committing identify theft or have done so in the past.

“First, you need to know that we don’t bluff,” Moore began. “Second, you need to know that if we catch you — and ultimately we will — stealing that personal information, we’re going to make sure that you have your own special number. That’s going to be a federal prison inmate number.”

Harris County Sheriff Mike Jolley said that within his 23 years as an agency head, he has seen criminal activity shift from burglary and thefts to more identity fraud incidents.

“Without the collaborative effort that we’re going into now, the criminals are far ahead of us,” Jolley said. “I’m honored to be a part of this type of effort that we’re putting together. An agency such as ours, as a local agency, can’t do it alone.”

Columbus Police Maj. Gil Slouchick also mentioned the importance of having additional help when tackling the issue.

“Identity theft is a growing crime, and a majority of the cases that we work are committed by people outside of the jurisdiction,” Slouchick said. “This partnership will give us an opportunity to reach out to those people who live outside of Columbus who are victimizing the people in Columbus. We look forward to it.”