LAS VEGAS (KSNV MyNews3) -- Here is something to keep in mind: Whenever and wherever you give out your personal information, you are vulnerable to identity theft. In this Rip-Off Alert, that can even happen you're searching for an apartment.
The victims in this case were all renting. Each of them had filled out an rental application with personal information.
"Somebody who worked for the apartment management complex was able to obtain copies of their driver’s licenses and their applications, and they were given to the defendant,” said U.S. Postal Inspector Blanca Alvarez.
The identity thief then went online and -- with those dates of birth and Social Security numbers -- applied for student loans.
"They ranged from $25,000 and up," Alvarez said.
Postal inspectors got involved because the checks were being sent to vacant addresses.
"The checks would be picked up the defendant who was stealing the mail,” Alvarez said.
The next step in this fraud was hiring people who -- with fake IDs -- would go into banks and cash the student loan checks.
"The total potential loss in this case was over a half-million dollars,” Alvarez said. “The victims in this case had a difficult time fixing their credit. It's a lengthy process."
"If their identities are stolen, most parents wouldn't catch that crime for 10, perhaps 15 years down the road,” said assistant U.S. attorney Marc Anton. “So an ID thief really gets a good head start year after year after year.”
Postal inspectors share some advice: Check your credit report at least once a year to make sure no one has stolen your identity and taken our loans or credit cards in your name, and shred any documents with personal information.