Identity theft involves acquiring key pieces of someone's identifying information, such as name, address, date of birth, social security number and mother's maiden name. The identity thief then uses the information to impersonate the victim and obtain credit, apply for loans, cash checks, etc.
When most people think of identity theft they think of a worker at an Internet or mail order business using a customer's credit card number to obtain goods. Although these cases happen, they are far from being the most common form of identity theft. Most local businesses employ good, honest people who truly want your return business, not to victimize you. The most common form of identity theft occurs much closer to home.
Most identity thefts can be avoided with three simple steps; protect your mail, protect your trash and check your credit report. Identity thieves will commonly steal mail or rummage through trash to find your information. They then use your information to cash checks and obtain goods via the mail or Internet. Identity thieves love to find "junk mail," especially pre-approved credit card applications or the checks credit card companies send to their customers. Never leave your mail in an unsecured receptacle and never throw your mail in the trash without shredding it. Checking your credit report yearly will help you discover suspicious credit inquiries on your account.
Identity theft as we know it today is a relatively new crime. It has however become very common. Because it is such a new crime, many police agencies are not familiar with investigating identity theft. Because these cases have become so common, many agencies simply don't have the resources to investigate them.
The Red Bluff Police Department not only investigates these crimes but also has a very high success rate for solving cases of identity theft.
You may have read recent articles in which one woman obtained the identities of 37 victims. She obtained most of these identities from the trashcans at the Post Office. Many of the victims reported that they simply threw away their "junk mail" such as pre-approved credit applications, etc. when leaving the Post Office.
Another recent case involved a woman stealing peoples' mail while they were away from home. The woman then used the peoples' information and her home computer to print checks and counterfeit California driver's licenses to use when cashing the checks.
Sounds pretty sophisticated right? Not really. The majority of the people we arrest for identity theft are not exceptionally smart folks; they have just found some cracks in today's credit-structured society. Many of those arrested are also involved with the use of methamphetamine.
In one recent case, the victim was actually a Detective for the Red Bluff Police Department. The suspect broke into the Detective's locked mailbox; not knowing it was owned by a Police Officer. The suspect then used the Detective's information to obtain a cellular telephone. You can imagine the suspect's surprise when the Detective tracked him down and sent him to jail. Talk about "dumb luck."
How can I protect my Identity?
- Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after delivery.
- Deposit outgoing mail in Post Office collection boxes or at your local Post Office. Do not leave mail in unsecured mail receptacles.
- Never give personal information over the telephone, such as your social security number, date of birth, mother's maiden name, credit card number, or bank pin code, unless you initiated the phone call. Protect this information and release it only when absolutely necessary.
- Shred pre-approved credit applications, credit card receipts, bills and other financial information you don't want before discarding them in the trash.
- Order your credit report from all three credit bureaus once a year to check for fraudulent activity or other discrepancies. You can obtain a free credit report online at www.annualcreditreport.com
- Never leave receipts at bank machines, bank counters, "point of sale" locations, trash receptacles, or gasoline pumps. Keep track of all your paperwork. When you no longer need it, destroy it.
- Sign all new credit cards upon receipt and add "See ID" on them. It's annoying to show your driver's license when your purchasing goods but it is still one of the best protections out there.
- Save all credit card receipts and match them against your monthly bills.
- Beware of mail or telephone solicitations disguised as promotions offering instant prizes or awards designed solely to obtain your personal information or credit card numbers.
- Use caution when disclosing checking account numbers, credit card numbers or other personal financial data at any Internet Website or online service location unless you receive a secured authentication key from your provider.
Victims of identity theft can put a "fraud alert" on their credit accounts by telephoning each of the three credit bureaus. The fraud alert will request creditors call you before opening any new accounts. You must call all three bureaus individually as they often do not cross-report.
To order your report: 1-800-685-1111 | To report fraud: 1-800-525-6285
To order your report: 1-888-397-3742 | To report fraud: 1-888-397-3742
To order your report: 1-800-916-8800 | To report fraud: 1-800-680-7285
The Red Bluff Police Department is dedicated to protecting its citizens and community. If you have additional questions about this or any other topic, please feel free to call the Red Bluff Police Department at 527-3131. We will strive to return your calls and e-mails and answer your questions. And remember, "An informed community is a safe community."