Do you know the difference between Identity Theft and Credit Card Fraud? I used to think they were one and the same. Credit Card Fraud is usually just a one-time (or specific time period) use of your credit card to make a purchase(s). But Identity Theft is the attempt by someone to become you and is one of the biggest issues going around this country.

Identity Theft is not just those cute commercials on TV, sponsored by Citibank. Identity theft is the ability of someone to get your name?”and especially social security number (SSN)?”and begin to live their lives as if they were you.

Take the case of Brandon Carnelas. He was a 10-year-old foster child when someone allegedly sold his name and SSN. Brandon’s information came into the possession of Agustin Ortega-Luna a Mexican national who was in this country illegally and needed an identity in order to get a job. Ortega-Luna not only purchased Brandon’s SSN, he began to live as Brandon using his name and date of birth with just a change to the year. Over the course of the last eight years, Ortega-Luna bought a 1990 Honda, a 2005 pickup truck plus a house in the suburbs for $177,000 all in Brandon Carnelas’ name.

Ortega-Luna opened up account after account in Brandon’s name. Somehow the real Brandon Carnelas found a bank where an account had been opened in his name and SSN. So the real Brandon Carnelas withdrew $8,000 from that account. That caused Ortega-Luna to go the police (claiming to be Brandon Carnelas) and both ended up in jail?”Ortega-Luna for fraud and being in this country illegally and Brandon for fraud for taking the money (even though it was under his own name and SSN).

For many black people, Identify Theft is really not on our radar. We tend to fear more somebody getting our credit card account and making purchases. Yet reading about Brandon Carnelas and the fact that a relative may have sold his information for $400, reinforces why I won’t put my children’s SSN on just any form or application. I also wonder how many foster children living in our community might have their information stolen and sold by a disreputable individual?

Some think it’s a gag that people will have the gas, phone or lights turned on using their children’s name and SSN. But in the past couple of weeks I ran into several people whose lives have been made miserable by both Identify Theft and Credit Card Fraud. One young lady named Victoria had a man take her information, change the name from Victoria to Victor and begin using her SSN and other information. She was able to catch it before too much damage had been done but then found out another woman who used to work with her had taken her information and opened up a couple of charge accounts and made off with the merchandise.

Another young girl had an aunt who was arrested by the police. The aunt gave her niece’s name and SSN to the police instead of her own. The police didn’t check out the information and when the aunt skipped out on her bail, the police came looking for the young girl!

There are things we can all do to protect ourselves and our children. First, all of us should be very hesitant to give out too much information to people just because they have a form requesting it?”especially when it comes to your children’s SSN. For eight years, Brandon Carnelas’ number was used and because he was a child, it made it easier for the criminal and harder for Brandon to dispute.

Next, if you don’t have a shredder, buy one and use it.

Lastly, write both senators Durbin and Obama and ask them to address the issue of Identity Theft so that those who perpetrate it face a very tough penalty. If you have a computer, do it online at