MEMPHIS, Tenn. - In the past six months, authorities said that a Shelby County woman defrauded countless victims across 10 states, stealing $380,000.
“Frankly, this is the new normal,” said Eva Velasquez, the president and CEO of the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center.
Authorities said that 39-year-old Toni Gibson was arrested on a similar ‘scheme’ in 2020. Sheriff’s deputies discovered more than 100 fake driver’s licenses in her home that year, according to the department.
RELATED: Woman buys over $350K worth of store goods in identify theft scheme, sheriff's say
However, Gibson served a suspended 5-year sentence for that crime, meaning she stayed out of jail as long as she stayed out of trouble.
She now faces similar allegations less than 3 years later.
“We've not kept up with the punishments for these crimes,” Velasquez said. “As a society and in the criminal justice system, we don't take these offenses as seriously as we do violent crimes.”
Protecting your family
Identity theft has become increasingly easier as the internet has taken much of our lives.
“It expands the reach of every individual perpetrator,” Velasquez said. “They can apply for credit, open accounts, even apply for government benefits across multiple states without having to go to all of those different places. So the crime has become much, much easier to perpetrate successfully.”
Do you know the one step you can take to stop financial identity theft in its tracks?
“The most robust, proactive step that consumers can take to protect themselves from financial identity theft is to freeze their credit,” Velasquez said.
Visit the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.
Whether or not you have a credit card or a bank account, it is possible to freeze your credit to prevent identity thieves from jeopardizing your credit profile. With bad credit, it’s difficult to apply for an apartment, mortgage or auto loan.
“Whether or not you have a bank account or you even use credit, you can still freeze a credit report,” Velasquez said. “If you have what they call a thin file, (there's not a lot of information about you because you don't use credit) you still can create a file using your Social Security number and then immediately freeze it.”
Watch FOX13’s special report on protecting your children from identity theft here.
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