Do Meth Addicts Want Your Identity?

If you think you're safe from identity theft because you shred documents before disposing of them, Pierce County, Wash., prosecutors have some people you should meet.

They're methamphetamine addicts, and in Pierce County, as in many other areas across the West, law enforcement officials are finding more and more evidence of what they believe is a link between meth use and identity theft.

"The thing that is somewhat unique to identity theft is that it requires an almost absurd amount of hours and focus, which methamphetamine users have in abundance," said Mark Lindquist, team chief of the drug unit with the county prosecuting attorney. "We've seen methamphetamine users putting together papers that have been through shredders."

The link has been found in as much as 90 percent of the identity theft cases being prosecuted in the county, he said.

More than a year ago, spoke with numerous local law enforcement officials who were already seeing the link, but so far there is only anecdotal evidence. Federal lawmakers are now calling for a study to determine the extent of the problem.

A Wave of Identity Theft

Earlier this spring, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., asked the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct a comprehensive national investigation of the connection between the two crimes.

"Having nationwide information and a better understanding of the growing problem will help lay the groundwork for a comprehensive solution," Cantwell said at a news conference in Seattle. "If we're going to be successful in curbing these crimes and keeping communities safe, we need a strategy to attack them at their roots."

Recently, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., signed on to Cantwell's bill.

Over the past decade, there has been a dramatic increase in meth use. More than 9,300 meth labs were seized across the country in 2004, a 500 percent increase since 1996. That boom has coincided with a sharp rise in the incidence of identity theft. There were 214,905 reports received by the Federal Trade Commission in 2003, up from 86,212 in 2001.

In many cases, it seems, the two crimes go hand in hand.

Funding Addiction

For example, in Colorado, 16 people have been indicted on charges, including racketeering, computer crime and motor vehicle theft, following a seven-month investigation into alleged identity theft that prosecutors say was fueled by the suspects' hunger for methamphetamines.

The indictment, handed up by a Denver grand jury, accuses a core group of five people of stealing money, merchandise, checkbooks, credit cards, guns, cars and other items. Eleven other people are also believed to be involved.

The proceeds from the crimes were used to buy methamphetamine, according to the Denver District Attorney's Office.

"The amount of crime fueled by illegal drug use, especially meth right now, has a huge impact on everyone in the metro area," District Attorney Mitch Morrissey said. "We all benefit when a criminal enterprise like this is shut down."

The indictment alleges that Kasey Blake Gruver, 30; Jennifer Wilson, 24; Mark Hazlett, 39; Daniel Campbell, 27; and Guadalupe "Jay" Garcia, 26; were a "clearinghouse" for stolen merchandise and stolen personal and financial information.

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