The nature of identity theft makes investigation an uphill battle. Suspects use fake names as a rule, and rarely show their faces. But those who do unravel the tangled, sometimes high-tech webs, credit the bulk of success to diligence and traditional police work.
The San Francisco Police Department, the United States Postal Service and the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office all investigated two men recently sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to identity theft.
Postal Inspector Kristine Kearney, a spokeswoman for the service, said most of the investigation still works along traditional channels.
“People complain and then you use subpoena power and you find out where statements are being sent,” she said. “You just follow the paper trail.”
Inspectors also work with the victimized institutions themselves.
“A lot of our best information comes from the bank investigators that we work with,” Kearney said. “They keep the information when people sign up for accounts.”
While the San Francisco Police Department has jurisdiction over crimes committed in San Francisco, the USPS enforces about 200 federal crimes, including identity theft, that are committed against or through the mail.
According to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s San Francisco office, arrests for identity theft grew by an average of 7 percent per year from 2003 through 2005. Between 2005 and 2006, arrests jumped 50 percent, and they appear to be at about the same level in 2007 that they were last year.