Identity Theft and Methamphetamines

New trend or scary rumor?

When methamphetamine proliferated more recently, the police and prosecutors at first did not associate it with a rise in other crimes. There were break-ins at mailboxes and people stealing documents from garbage, Mr. Morales said, but those were handled by different parts of the Police Department.

But finally they connected the two. Meth users -- awake for days at a time and able to fixate on small details -- were looking for checks or credit card numbers, then converting the stolen identities to money, drugs or ingredients to make more methamphetamine. For these drug users, Mr. Morales said, identity theft was the perfect support system.

Supposedly meth users are ideally suited to be computer hackers:

For example, crack cocaine or heroin dealers usually set up in well-defined urban strips run by armed gangs, which stimulates gun traffic and crimes that are suited to densely populated neighborhoods, including mugging, prostitution, carjacking and robbery. Because cocaine creates a rapid craving for more, addicts commit crimes that pay off instantly, even at high risk.

Methamphetamine, by contrast, can be manufactured in small laboratories that move about suburban or rural areas, where addicts are more likely to steal mail from unlocked boxes. Small manufacturers, in turn, use stolen identities to buy ingredients or pay rent without arousing suspicion. And because the drug has a long high, addicts have patience and energy for crimes that take several steps to pay off.

[...]

"Crack users and heroin users are so disorganized and get in these frantic binges, they’re not going to sit still and do anything in an organized way for very long," Dr. Rawson said. "Meth users, on the other hand, that’s all they have, is time. The drug stimulates the part of the brain that perseverates on things. So you get people perseverating on things, and if you sit down at a computer terminal you can go for hours and hours."

And there's the illegal alien tie-in:

"Look at the states that have the highest rates of identity theft -- Arizona, Nevada, California, Texas and Colorado,’’ Mr. Morales said. "The two things they all have in common are illegal immigration and meth."

I have no idea if any of this is actually true. But I do know if the drug user-identity thief connection story has legs, Congress is likely to start paying much closer attention.

Posted on July 12, 2006 at 1:32 PM • 45 Comments

Comments

AlanJuly 12, 2006 2:10 PM

Morales has it wrong. The connection is not between meth and illegal immigration, its between meth and Mexico where the raw ingredients for meth (cold medicines in bulk) are still readily available.

Chase VentersJuly 12, 2006 2:47 PM

While I'm certainly not condoning the use of methamphetamine, why do politicians and writers always seem to treat drug users or addicts like they're some kind of pest or alien race that is being studied? They end up implying all kinds of cause-effect relationships without any factual backing. The theories they propose detract from the real issue.

I'm not saying that some meth users don't steal identities to support their junk habits, but lumping in meth use with identity theft is a great way to address _both_ problems in the wrong way. And I think this sort of lumping is often malicious in nature - it's explicitly designed to push concern for other problems.

Lump illegal immigration in with drug use and identity theft, and you're likely to get just enough people alarmed that illegal immigration suddenly becomes a much bigger problem. It won't be long before those in favor of passing new legislation about immigration start referring to all the "methed up identity thieves" that are trolling down your family street, looking for their next fix.

Beryllium Sphere LLCJuly 12, 2006 3:16 PM

This is OLD news.

A 2001 postal inspector's report (http://www.usps.com/postalinspectors/ar01_04.htm) says " In the Southwest portion of the country, the increase in volume mail theft is directly related to the increase in methamphetamine abuse. " In 2002, sfgate.com (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2003/06/18/BA294797.DTL) quoted law enforcement saying "The saying we have in law enforcement is, 'Where there's meth (methamphetamine), there's mail (theft),"

The claim is that the crime is well suited to the drug, which allows prolonged focus on detailed tasks.

Nick LancasterJuly 12, 2006 4:17 PM

And how many meth users are actually capable coders?

There's a difference between meth makers and meth users ... this would seem to infer that they are one and the same, and illegal immigrants, to boot.

I think this is a sunspots & bunny rabbits issue, a false correlation.

antibozoJuly 12, 2006 4:45 PM

Another explanation for the purported perseverance phenomenon is ADD/ADHD sufferers self-medicating with methamphetamine.

AnonymousJuly 12, 2006 4:55 PM

The connection between meth and illegal immigration seems like a cheap ploy for federal funds to me - most meth ingredients that aren't available locally usually come from Canada, not Mexico. Even in my immigrant-heavy neighborhood, with all the anti-immigrant sentiment, I've never seen that connection made before.

But the connection between crime and drug use is quite well-understood. Speed freaks are smart enough to figure out how easy it is to turn an older car (or whatever) into cash, once you know a chop shop or fence, and it isn't a stretch to see how simple ID theft is. (Most of the ID theft busts here turn out to be meth rings looking to supplement their income.) I don't know if speed makes ID theft easier, or if that's just a random hypothesis, but when the crime is as easy as ID theft, it's a no-brainer that criminals of every type are going to go after it. Low-hanging fruit and all.

RichJuly 12, 2006 5:44 PM

@BLP:

"Correlation of increase in A = increase in B, or vice versa?"

Um, correlation: increase in A coincides with increase in B. Likely assumption that meth purity is the causation of all the other data spikes.

A police officer was trying to determine what treatment programs were most effective. In looking at various data, he saw periodic peaks in lots of things, like arrests and drug treatment program re-admits. The data peaks all matched, if time shifted. The key, and probably causal data was the meth purity.

I think Meth is used as a study drug. I'm not sure that would make one a good (of any colour hat) hacker.

MoeJuly 12, 2006 7:11 PM

I think there is some confusion here between causality and correlation here: "Post hoc, ergo prompter hoc?"

Also, as an IT security person studying pharmacology (long story), meth users (ADHD, narcolepsy) and meth abusers are very different. Meth abusers often experience psychosis and paranoia, and (longer term) parkinson-like dyskinesia (shaking). Which I believe (like others above) wouldn't make for the greatest of hackers.

Randolph FritzJuly 12, 2006 9:47 PM

The meth "epidemic" is apparently fictional--see (http://www.wweek.com/editorial/3220/7368/); this probably is, too.

jmrJuly 12, 2006 9:50 PM

Studies have shown that all meth users have also been, at some point, bread users. Bread therefore should be termed a "gateway drug", as it leads to the use of other harder drugs, such as meth.

(This idea isn't original, but I forget who to attribute it to.)

So, maybe there's a rise in meth usage, and a rise in "identity theft" in the same neighborhood. Therefore, there must be a causative effect between one and the other, right? Oh, and don't forget to throw in the illegal aliens.

...

antibozoJuly 12, 2006 9:57 PM

Rich> Um, correlation: increase in A coincides with increase in B. Likely assumption that meth purity is the causation of all the other data spikes.
Rich> A police officer was trying to determine what treatment programs were most effective. In looking at various data, he saw periodic peaks in lots of things, like arrests and drug treatment program re-admits. The data peaks all matched, if time shifted. The key, and probably causal data was the meth purity.

What we have here is the use of "probable" to mean, "I believe it, and by bandying about a statistical term I'm pressuring you to believe it too without having to present any evidence." This has become, in common parlance, the normal use of this term. (Get it?)

Correlation is just that. It says nothing specific about causation. And no number of repetitions of the word "probably" will make your statements any more or less true.

slumosJuly 12, 2006 11:20 PM

A few weeks ago I attended a talk by a US Attorney on ID Theft. She had this catch-phrase that went something like, "it oughta be called identity-theft-n-meth".

AnonymousJuly 13, 2006 12:42 AM

Odd, in my Fire/EMS experience (volunteer FF in a rural area), meth users can't focus for crap, or they so obsess over something that they can't function otherwise.

They usually so obsessed about something that they can't do anything else at all. Massively narrow focus.

another_bruceJuly 13, 2006 3:04 AM

"when methamphetamine proliferated more recently..."
more recently? **hearty guffaw**. you mean, more recently than ten years ago? some of these comments come from underwater too:
chase venters: "why do politicians and writers always seem to treat drug users and addicts like they're some kind of pest...?" dude, we're talking tweakers, not generic "drug users" such as potsmokers or barry bonds. there's a qualitative difference which you're obviously unfamiliar with, so i wish upon you life in a rural area (like southern coastal oregon where i am) where meth isn't just a pervasive social crisis, but an environmental crisis too. when poisonous chemicals seep into your well water, quaff deep and post back to us your sympathy for the people who put them there. randolph fritz believes that the meth "epidemic" is fictional. hoo-ha. mr. fritz, it would be positively karmic if a tweaker stole your car tomorrow to support his habit. folks, there's stuff going on out here that you can't learn about just from reading blogs.

Mario FuenteJuly 13, 2006 4:08 AM

The problems are due to the methamphetamines and not immigrates. The identity theft is subsequential and it's not happening only near the mexico area

Clive RobinsonJuly 13, 2006 4:41 AM

There used to be a saying about testing a hypothesys by turning it the other way arround...

So if people are saying that -> if an appropriate mind altering chemmical becomes readilly available that helpes you become task focussed for very long periods of time or in other ways increassed your ability to concentrate for increased periods, those taking it would turn into ID theft criminals?

The other way around would be -> ID theft criminals require sufficient levels of concentration as to require them to take mind altering substances.

Would give rise to a simple test, in that all those caught committing ID theft should be tested for drug usage and see what percentage are on the drugs. You would of course need to also check if they had been successfull or not at ID theft as the following might be true,

The use of certain mind altering substances makes you sufficiently belive you have the ability to commit ID theft successfully.

And the result is that as you do not actually have the ability you just think you do you get easily caught...

I feel there might be a PhD in all of this somewhere if people want to try ;)

RogerJuly 13, 2006 5:01 AM

This story has been floating around for years. I don't know whether it is true, has a kernel of truth and layer of cruft, or is all cruft, but it has suffered an important mutation since I first heard it.

The original version was that meth _manufacturers_ (who by and large are at least moderately well educated and don't use their own product, at least while "cooking", due to the serious risk of fire) were getting penniless meth _addicts_ to pay for their drugs by reassembling shredded documents (for use in ID theft).

This version made a lot of sense: someone with intelligence and a criminal mentality was exploiting the meth addicts' "strength" (compulsive behaviour) to eliminate their essential weakness as customers (no money!) in a way that was profitable to the manufacturer. You can also see where the illegal alien tie-in might come from: a meth cook finds his zombie army isn't reassembling documents fast enough, so he hires some illegal aliens and then gets them hooked on meth instead of paying them.

The current version, in which it is the _addicts_ performing the ID theft, sounds rather unlikely and is perhaps a garble of the original version: classic urban legend mutation.

ChrisJuly 13, 2006 7:35 AM

@Clive:
A common fallacy is to assume that A implies B means that B implies A. For example, blue whales are blue but not all blue things are blue whales.

ChrisJuly 13, 2006 7:35 AM

@Clive:
A common fallacy is to assume that A implies B means that B implies A. For example, blue whales are blue but not all blue things are blue whales.

ChrisJuly 13, 2006 7:38 AM

@Clive:
A common fallacy is to assume that A implies B means that B implies A. For example, blue whales are blue but not all blue things are blue whales.

bobJuly 13, 2006 7:46 AM

HOLY CARP! They forgot to add the codeword "terrorist" to insure maximum funding! Those idiots! Dont they know how to milk a headline/soundbite?

Simple solution. Legalize it. Then nobody will give a shirt. The stuff will be too cheap to provide profit to criminals, its about as hard to manufacture as ketchup.

derfJuly 13, 2006 10:02 AM

Correlations may or may not turn out to have a causal relationship, however, they are usually sufficiently interesting to invite further study. That's why the US government spends so much money on wonderful research like finding out if girls and boys are in fact different. One would think these great intellects would take a gander at the relationships between illegals, meth, and ID theft while they were at it, but "one would think" only rarely applies to government.

jimaJuly 13, 2006 10:44 AM

@antibozo and others:
You guys should really check out the episode of Frontline Rich was referring to before dismissing outright the point he was trying to make.

Sam JJuly 13, 2006 11:40 AM

In other news there is a statistically significant inverse relationship between pirates and global temperature (http://www.venganza.org/).

Interesting observation nonetheless :)

RvnPhnxJuly 13, 2006 11:52 AM

Ok, a couple of things here:
As for the ID thefty connection, said aforementioned Frontline episode and other sources have in the past made note of the fact that often times the addicts aren't actually doing the "big parts" of the crime which puchases them their meth. Indeed it has been speculated in the past that meth addicts have been delivering the stolen mail to dealers whom then paid them in meth for the effort, just has had been done with virutually every other movable form of property already.
This insight emliminates the need to come up with hair-brained ways that meth addicts could be stealing identities (other than those whom were already doing so before becoming addicts)--as we have already surmised that it is just the usual suspects at work.
So, no scare tatics required--how about we just actually pay for some boots on the street (since this is a proven crime investigation / prevention solution) and forget about the high roller mumbo-jumbo?

@Moe
Those of us whom have narcolepsy are typically on stuff much safer (and less potent) than meth. This does not however make it any less of a pain in the ass for us to get the medication(s) which our doctors have prescribed. Somebody would have to work really damned hard to get high on what I'm on, but it is still a Class 2.

Chris MJuly 13, 2006 11:59 AM

I don't think Mr. Morales was trying to say there's a connection between meth and illegal immigration. His point was that both meth users and illegal immigrants are more likely to be involved in identity theft. (Meth users do it to get drugs, and illegal immigrants do it to get jobs.)

In AZJuly 13, 2006 6:48 PM

@Chris

I don't notice a lot of illegal immigrants around here (central AZ) stealing mail from mailboxes and running up credit card bills.

There's a bit of difference between "identity theft" as fraud and "fake identity" as bogus SSN or other papers.

And at least here in AZ, there are several factors contributing to high identity theft rates, including the high percentage of retirees who are easier to spoof over the phone.

AnonymousJuly 14, 2006 2:38 AM

I used to rent a room to some meth addicts in 1996, and they turned out to have a bad habbit (besides the meth) of stealing mail from houses and lockboxes in order to cash the checks they found. They would use this money to pay rent and buy more meth.

As far as I am concerned, this is not news, or it is at least 10 year old news.

It is nice to see the police finally putting the 2 together.

PeterJuly 14, 2006 8:18 AM

Recent stories in the local 2 (well, they're owned by the same company) newspapers (denver post and rocky mountain news) have been mentioning that many of the illegal immigrants have been using stolen identities to get jobs. That there are several hundred people who's SSN gets used at 10 or more jobs per year (including the 10 year old "working" 17 jobs, and the 82 year old "working" 55 jobs). I have no clue how the IRS and SSA sort this stuff out, and the stories mentioned that the 82yo was unable to get housing assistance because her SSN showed very high levels of income (no kidding, even if those 55 other folks were working minimum wage, it would come to a lot of money per year).

Sometimes I wonder if we see demons under every bush and behind every rock. If meth usage is the "evil of the week" then we attribute all identity theft to them. When illegal immigrants are the evil of the week, then they become the cause of all identity theft. What's next? Will next week we claim that all identity theft is caused by alneda? Or cigarette smokers? What is that doing to our ability to use logic and think clearly?

joe KillerJuly 14, 2006 11:41 AM

So another demographic correlation:

Meth is suburban and rural drug, so
if we depopulate the rural areas and suburbs we get rid of the problem.

Logically that leads to:
Shoot a redneck today.

DontGetFooledAgainJuly 14, 2006 4:22 PM

"But I do know if the drug user-identity thief connection story has legs, Congress is likely to start paying much closer attention."

It seems like Congress does everything in its power to avoid paying attention to issues like this. Sure, they assemble a panel of experts and have a hearing, but then nothing changes.

I would state it differently: "But I do know if the drug user-identity thief connection story has legs, Congress is likely to pretend to start paying much closer attention."

Jake BrakeJuly 15, 2006 1:24 AM

The part about a correlation between meth addicts and mail/identity theft is valid.

The part that ties immigration to the problem is racist fearmongering.

Although the second point is invalid, it does not negate the first point.

good neighborJuly 16, 2006 3:10 AM

I live in a downtown urban area and you definitely do not want meth dealers in your neighborhood. I've seen more random violence and crime associated with them than any other drug. In fact, heavily armed police finally came (thankfully) and cleaned out the meth nuisance after petty theft (mail, handbags) or worse (stolen vehicles) really got out of control. The level of noise and criminal activity definitely decreased after the meth crowd was forced to vacate -- unlike other types of drugs that cause folks to come in and out of view and trouble, the meth-heads seemed to work feverishly and uncontrollably 24x7 on questionable activities, even out in the open.

good neighborJuly 16, 2006 3:17 AM

Oh, yes, I forgot to say it's definitely a trend, but not really new. Thankfully the police are aware, although in my experience surveillance and heavily armed and armored feds supported the police to clean out the dealers so in the end the operation looked much bigger than even several branches of a Police Department.

DougCJuly 16, 2006 12:34 PM

Sadly, I know all too much about meth. It has effectively killed a couple of once-good friends. They're still walking, but no one is home, certainly not my friends. Back in the day, we old hippies had a phrase; Speed Kills. It's still true. When one of my old friends had his bail bondsman call me to help him get out and I described him as (formerly) a good engineer, I got a pretty incredulous response -- he didn't think the guy could hold a pencil anymore, and seeing him later, it was indeed the case. That's the truth as told by an old hippie, once a "rock star", and both now and then a pretty decent computer engineer. Been there, seen that, and I truly doubt that after even after a little meth use on a regular basis anyone would be competent at anything whatever that required any skill. Users have a strong tendency to self destruct, and do so pretty quickly. I'm so sick of the carnage that I agree it should be legalized so that the losers can self-eliminate. Anyone with even a little sense would easily avoid that trap. I know many who tried it once...and that was that; even a fairly dim-bulb person quickly realizes that meth isn't the way to have fun. As others have stated, this is just some smokescreen for someone looking for more funds.

Jay C. JamesJuly 18, 2006 4:21 PM

Living in San Diego, arguably Meth Capital of SoCal (and at one time, certainly The World), I have had my share of run-ins with 'tweakers'.
I am not surprised that meth can be mentioned these days in the same breath as identity theft. Think of all the tweakers down at the beach or in East County riding their mash-up bikes (why does that frame look so familiar?!) through your alleys at 2-3am, or working on cars for days at a time, taking breaks, going through your trashcans, picking out the stubs from your bills, gleaning account information, dollar amounts, and perhaps even a snack or two -- all at your expense.

This isnt a surprise. "Idle hands...", you know.

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