Boyce Bishop didn't jump for joy when a letter arrived in his Lower Yakima Valley mailbox recently, informing him he was the winner of $615,810 from the El Gordo Sweepstake Lottery.
Bishop recognized the "official" notification as a scam. He alerted law enforcement personnel to it, but learned no law had been broken.
"Until they actually take your money, it isn't a crime to send out these kinds of letters," he said. "Of course, by then your money is gone and it's too late."
This particular scam required Bishop to fill out a payment processing form, which was to be faxed back to the people who sent the sweepstakes notification. Among the personal information requested on the form was the name of the bank Bishop uses and his bank account number.
"A dead giveaway that something was up," he said.
Ironically, this latest identity theft scam to slither into the Lower Yakima Valley comes on the heels of Sen. Maria Cantwell asking FBI Director Robert Mueller to devote resources to investigate a newly discovered identity theft ring. The Washington state lawmaker said this latest band of criminals is suspected of attempting to steal the identities of about 100,000 Americans.
Cantwell is also urging the FBI to cooperate with the Federal Trade Commission to make sure the victims of this fraud are given the assistance necessary to reclaim their identities and repair their damaged credit.
"Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the nation," said Cantwell (D-Wa.).
"The millions of Americans that are affected feel like they're victims twice-once when their identity is stolen and again when they struggle to clear their good names," she said.
"Given the apparent scope of this identity theft ring, federal authorities need to provide as much assistance as possible to help these consumers cut through the red tape," Cantwell added.
Annually, experts estimate identity theft costs Americans about $750 million. Studies estimate that by 2006, identity theft will cost financial institutions alone approximately $8 billion per year.
In December 2003, President Bush signed into law legislation sponsored by Cantwell, which is intended to speed up law enforcement investigations of identity theft. Cantwell's legislation makes it easier for police to access records.
Last year, Washington state ranked eighth in the nation for identity theft crimes, up from 10th the year before.
In spreading the word about the recent sweepstakes scam aimed at him and his family, Bishop cautions all Lower Valley residents to be wary of anyone asking for personal information.
"Bank account numbers, Social Security numbers...those types of things, be careful who you give them to," he said. "