NASHVILLE—Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons announced today the formation of a new investigative unit to combat the increase in identity theft and related crimes in Tennessee. The newly formed Identity Crimes Unit is comprised of employees from three divisions of the department: Tennessee Highway Patrol, Office of Homeland Security, and Driver Services Division.
Additionally, the Identity Crimes Unit is receiving support from federal partners. The United States Secret Service Nashville and Memphis field offices; Homeland Security Investigations, under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; and the Federal Bureau of Investigation Memphis division, are supporting the Identity Crimes Unit in investigations with possible federal violations.
The new unit is the direct outgrowth of the department’s top-to-bottom review requested last year by Governor Bill Haslam.
“As part of the top-to-bottom review, we focused on the needs of our citizens and the law enforcement community, as well as ways we could maximize the effective use of the resources we have,” Gibbons said.
According to the Consumer Sentinel Network, a date base used by law enforcement to collect consumer complaints, in 2011 there were 4,275 complaints of identity theft filed in Tennessee, compared to 4,175 filed in 2010. Nationwide, in 2011 there were 279,156 complaints of identity theft filed, compared to 258,854 filed in 2010.
“Identity crimes are a growing part of our crime problem, and many local law enforcement agencies struggle with investigating these cases. In addition, the Highway Patrol has specific authority under state law to investigate identity theft, there are obvious homeland security concerns with such crimes, and many identity crimes relate to driver licenses. So, we see it as a great opportunity for all three divisions of the department—our state troopers, homeland security agents, and driver license examiners—to work together as a team,” Gibbons noted.
The Identity Crimes Unit provides support to local law enforcement upon request, but will consider several factors to determine the level of involvement. Some of these factors include fraudulent use of a driver license; a nexus to homeland security issues; cooperation of victims; violation of Tennessee’s felony theft law; the number, financial amount, and frequency of transactions; and referral from a federal agency. Investigators and staff assigned to the Identity Crimes Unit have been training for months to increase skills in the area of identity crimes and collect best practices for this type of investigating from other states.
The unit has created a resource kit for identity theft victims and has linked it to www.tn.gov/safety. Investigators will also participate in programs and events to encourage identity theft awareness, distribute educational materials to safeguard against identity crimes, and encourage the public to take proactive steps to reduce the debilitating impacts of identity crimes.