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Corporate ID thieves mining the store

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Dozens of businesses in Colorado, and probably thousands more nationally, are victims of a new and frighteningly easy breed of identity theft in which corporate information is hijacked and millions of dollars in phony credit purchases are made.

All it takes is an Internet connection and, in some cases, as little as a $10 fee to alter the name of a corporate officer or the address of a company's registered agent on public records.

Once that is done, thieves acquire corporate credit that typically runs in multiples much higher than the average consumer can get.

And most companies might never know it's happening until it's too late and credit ratings have been trashed.

The nation's secretary of state offices - the agencies that usually register corporations and maintain public databases on them — have few protections to stop the Internet-based theft. In Colorado, for example, anyone can access the online databases and make changes since there is no password protection.

"We're just now getting a handle on the problem," said Kay Stimson, spokeswoman for the National Association of Secretaries of State.

Such inaction has business owners fuming and, in turn, scratching their heads.

"What's screwy is information on my fantasy football team is better protected with a password than the information for my business," said Richard Chuapoco, whose company's identity was stolen in February by someone using a fictitious name and address.

Thieves are also relying on Dunn & Bradstreet — the business equivalent of a consumer credit reporting bureau — as unwitting accomplices. The company provides credit ratings on businesses and corroborates any reported changes through secretary of state offices — where the fraud occurs in the first place.

"It's a terrible circle that one business is relying on another business, which in turn is using bad information from another, and so on and so on," said Agent-in-charge Robert Brown of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, believed to be the country's first to delve into the crime.

"We're on them," he said, "and we're catching up."

Police investigators have so far identified 48 Colorado businesses — many of them easily recognized — affected by the crime and expect to find dozens more.

Read more: Corporate ID thieves mining the store - The Denver Post

Written by David Migoya
The Denver Post

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