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'Constant state of paranoia'

All Debra Miles wants is her identity back.

In less than a year, Miles’ identity has been compromised four times by four different agencies. Now, she says, she is living in a constant state of paranoia.

“Yesterday was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” she said.

On Tuesday, Miles, a summer dispatcher for Oregon Department of Forestry, and her husband received letters from Oregon Employment Department about a “security vulnerability” involving some of their personal information.

OED was notified anonymously of a breach on Oct. 6 and promptly secured the system. Nonetheless, the information of more than 851,000 Oregonians, including the Miles, who had registered with WorkSource Oregon Management Information System, had been compromised.

OED reported that there is no evidence that any of the information has been used and, in a letter to those impacted, offered to provide one year of free credit monitoring and resolution services.

Miles said she’ll take what she can get and hope this is the end of her “nightmare.”

Last December, following the infamous Target breach, Rogue Federal Credit Union issued Miles new debit cards. Just in case.

Then, in April, Miles’ accountant of 38 years went to file her income taxes electronically, and they were returned with a message saying somebody had already filed taxes with her name and social security number

As recommended by the Internal Revenue Service, Miles filed a police report, changed her passwords and added security questions to all her accounts, and set up a credit block with the credit bureau so that she’ll be notified if anyone tries to open an account with her information.

“I got a four-page letter from the IRS saying they had readjusted my account so the person who had filed taxes under my name can’t,” Miles said.

“But they won’t tell me how my information got out there because of the Freedom Act. They won’t give me any information about the people who have my identity,” she added. “I don’t know what they think I will do to them. I just want to see them arrested."

Miles is pretty confident the perpetrators haven’t been arrested because over the summer she received a notice from a collection agency on the East Coast, saying she owed $580.05 for a purchase made through PayPal. She was told the purchase was made with a Wells Fargo card using an Outlook email account.

Miles has a Yahoo email account and has banked with the Rogue Federal Credit Union since 1981.

Wells Fargo ran her information but couldn't find any account in her name. A PayPal spokesperson told her the purchase was made in Oregon and directed her to law enforcement.

“At this point, my husband is ready to cut up all our credit and debit cards and pay for everything with cash,” said Miles.

Central Point police can’t track down the thief because it isn't local, and anywhere Miles turns she runs into the wall that is the Freedom Act.

“The Freedom Act basically gives the people who stole my identity more rights than I have,” she argued.

Medford police Sgt. Brent Mak said nine times out of 10 identity-theft suspects are not in the area. But it’s still important to file a police report as protection against creditors, he said.

Local police are only able to investigate situations where a check has been cashed locally or a debit or credit card is used locally. When personal information is used elsewhere, police are only able to document it and forward the report to the law enforcement agency closest to where the crime took place, Mak said.

Ryan Thompson, a public information officer with the IRS’ Criminal Investigation Division, said the IRS has not been breached. Rather, personal records are accessed in the commercial world, over the Internet or through the mail and then used to file fake tax returns.

Identity theft has become a type of organized crime conducted by professional criminals and is not as localized as it was five years ago. Now hackers can obtain information sitting in Europe and Africa, he said.

“All they need is the name and social security number,” Thompson said. “The rest they can make up entirely.”

And it’s pretty common that they do.

“This is nothing new,” Thompson said. “In the last two years, (the number of fraudulent tax returns) has exploded, becoming almost an epidemic,” he added.

The IRS Criminal Investigation Division initiated 276 identity theft-related investigations in 2011, 898 in 2012 and 1,492 in 2013, Thompson said.

Most cases take at least 120 days to be resolved, not like in the movies where it only takes 50 minutes, he added.

“It can take weeks to months of surveillance, data mining, search warrants, bank record analysis and tracking down people on the streets,” Thompson said. “But (Miles) can rest assured knowing somebody is on it.”

 Reach reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.

'Constant state of paranoia'