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Consumer Reports

Identity theft ring broken up, 22 arrested | FRANKFORT, Ky. (UPI) -- A four-month investigation by state and local officials and four federal agencies has broken up the largest identity theft ring to hit Kentucky, state officials said.

Police arrested 22 people charged with stealing people's identities to manufacture fake Social Security cards, driver's licenses, birth certificates and resident alien cards. Authorities said the ring peddled counterfeit ID cards to illegal immigrants in Boone County and the Lexington area for between $90 and $200.

Driver's licenses from Kentucky, Utah, Colorado, California, Ohio and Mexico were faked.

Boone County has the highest population of Hispanics in northern Kentucky, many illegally in the United States seeking work.

"Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the nation and became the number one consumer complaint in 2002," Kentucky Attorney General Ben Chandler said Monday. "Complaints about identity theft have reached 6,000 a day, which is 43 percent of all consumer complaints."

FBI agents, the Secret Service, Social Security Administration, Department of Defense and U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service joined authorities in Fayette and Boone counties, including the Lexington Police Department, in a four-month investigation of the ring.

The Cincinnati Enquirer said six people were arrested in Boone County last December and the others in and around Lexington.

Law enforcement officials seized large quantities of blank identification cards, papers used to manufacture fraudulent documents, cash, drugs and several weapons.

The arrests coincide with National Consumer Protection Week -- part of an awareness campaign to alert consumers about the nearly $1 billion a year lost to identity theft.

Chandler and U.S. Postal Inspector Roberta Bottom advised consumers to removed their mail from mailboxes promptly, never give out personal information over the phone, shred financial information before throwing it out, order a credit report once a year, notify credit bureaus to put fraud alerts on credit records if any suspicious activity occurs, sign all new credit cards immediately, keep receipts and check statements, report lost or stolen credit cards immediately and exercise caution in disclosing personal financial data on the Internet.

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