Courts & Crime

Identity theft crimes reaching 'epidemic proportions'

With a few keystrokes, computer security expert Esteban Farao can find all the wireless networks in use in a half-block radius from a Starbucks on Brickell.

One of them, it appears, is intended for guests at the Marriott. Others are private networks for individual businesses.

Farao, of Coral Gables-based Enterprise Risk Management, said the security of any of those networks could be compromised — a la Albert Gonzalez.

"It's a matter of time," Farao said, even for networks that are encrypted and password protected.

Gonzalez, of Miami, pleaded guilty last month to 19 felony charges in a Massachusetts indictment for tapping into the computer networks of T.J. Maxx, OfficeMax and other stores, stealing customers' data and selling it overseas. Federal prosecutors say he stole 40 million credit card numbers as a part of that scheme. He faces charges that he stole millions more from other companies.

Whatever tools an identity thief is using, whether Dumpster diving for individual credit card numbers, or stealing identities by the millions — "the damage that you can do to someone is exactly the same," said Wayne Ivey, a Florida law enforcement officer who has specialized in identity theft investigations for more than 15 years.

But this rapidly evolving crime is becoming more difficult to stop, Ivey said: Only one in 700 identity thieves is ever arrested.

"We're looking at a crime that has reached epidemic proportions," he said.

To read the complete article, visit