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FTC Booklet Details Help For Victims of Identity Theft

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 3, 2003 – A Federal Trade Commission booklet offers guidance for people who've fallen victim to a fast-growing crime: identity theft.

DoD officials believe that it is possible that some TRICARE beneficiaries could be subject to identity thievery due to the Dec. 14 theft of office computers in Phoenix, Arizona from military health care contractor TriWest Healthcare Alliance.

The FTC publication: "ID Theft: When Bad Things Happen to Your Good Name," points out to consumers that skilled identity thieves have proven adept over the last several years in using a variety of methods - low- and high-tech - - to gain access to personal data like social security numbers and credit card account information.

Identity thieves use such information to open up new credit accounts, running up thousands of dollars of illicit bills, including bank and automobile loans, which are charged to the victim.

The FTC publication, which can be accessed online at www.consumer.gov/idtheft, noted the incidence of identify theft has been increasing across the United States since the early 1990s.

In fact, Congress enacted the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998 to combat the problem, the booklet explained. In recent years many states have passed laws addressing identity theft, the booklet noted, while other states are considering such laws.

William Winkenwerder Jr., the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, noted in a recent letter that more than 500,000 clients served by TriWest will receive letters advising them of the December theft and offering detailed information on what they can do to safeguard against identity theft or fraud.

The Phoenix incident is a serious matter, emphasized Winkenwerder, noting that "personal information and records security are prime concerns" for the military's health care system.

DoD was notified of the theft Dec. 20, 2002. The Defense Criminal Investigative Service, FBI and other law enforcement authorities are investigating the incident. Anyone who may have knowledge of the Phoenix incident is asked to call a special toll-free hotline number: 1-800-424-9098.

"We regret an inconvenience this theft might cause our service members, their families, retirees and their families," Winkenwerder said.

The TRICARE Management Activity noted Dec. 23 that DoD has been working with TriWest to ensure uninterrupted service for beneficiaries.

TriWest covers TRICARE beneficiaries living in Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and extreme western Texas, according to the TMA release. Affected beneficiaries can also call 1-800-343-TIPS for more information.

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