CAPE CORAL, Fla. — Identity theft has skyrocketed in recent years, with two southwest Florida cities seeing some of the highest growth in the crime, according to a new report.
An analysis by the financial tech firm Lending Tree found Florida has seen a 52% increase in identity theft since 2019.
Miami, Orlando, Lakeland and Tampa all ranked in the 20 cities with id theft per capita.
Cape Coral and North Port saw the biggest increases in the last four years in Florida, 138% and 86% respectively, according to the analysis.
“It’s tough to prosecute these crimes. It’s almost creating a high-reward, low-risk situation,” said Rob Bhatt, an analyist with Lending Tree.
Take the case of former Cape Coral resident Devin Maresca, who was recently sentenced to more than three years in federal prison.
According to prosecutors, from 2018 to 2020 Maresca forged the signatures of his family members and claimed that packages he received from the U.S. Postal Service were damaged.
In court, he was convicted of cashing in more than $100,000 before he was arrested and convicted.
“These folks are unscrupulous. They’re creative, they’re relentless and they’re becoming more sophisticated,” said Bhatt.
The increase in online shopping since the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has made it easier for thieves to steal your identity, according to the report.
Also, given the massive population growth in southwest Florida in recent years, more people could make themselves vulnerable to id theft.
“When you move, if your mail doesn’t get forwarded, information with sensitive documentation might get into the wrong hands,” said Bhatt.
“At a minimum, you should get credit monitoring,” Bhatt said. “These plans send out an alert if someone uses your identity to apply for credit or open an account, so you can alert authorities and nip it in the bud. Three-bureau monitoring is best because these plans tend to alert you to suspicious activity quicker than single-bureau monitoring plans.”
In addition to credit monitoring, he recommends a plan that covers ID restoration or repair expenses.