Avoiding the theft for the holidays
She might have been Jane Doe of New Hampshire on Black Friday, with little more than two credit cards, a house and a car.
But by the time she checks her credit the next year, she might see that five credit cards, three houses and two cars have been purchased in her name.
While the scene is fictitious, it’s an identity theft disaster that statistics show occurs almost daily around the country. Dothan ranks 103rd in the United States for metro cities with the most identity theft cases reported to the Federal Trade Commission. Those cases could be “as small” as a person stealing a credit card and using it in local retail stores.
Or, Dothan Police Investigator Allan Souders said, the incidents could be much more severe.
“A lot of times someone from another state will call us and say their social security number or credit card is being used here in Dothan. You have other cases where someone locally might find somebody in another state might be using their information, checking account numbers they can use over the phone or to purchase items online,” Souders said.
“It’s something that happens all over the place, not just in Dothan, and it seems to be growing especially with computers and the age of technology.”
Alison Wingate of the Alabama Retail Association said retail stores implement their own methods to help customers prevent identity theft. Whether or not identification is required for transactions is a store policy, she said.
Wingate said the retail association worked with the state Attorney General’s office in 2001 to pass “The Consumer Identity Protection Act,” which sets forth guidelines on how to prosecute people found guilty of identity theft.
While both state agencies work toward preventing identity theft year-round, Wingate said in a statement it was essential to verify shopping sources from online as well before submitting financial information.
“The holidays are unfortunately a prime time for thieves,” she said. “Be especially careful when shopping online and verify the source as well as the security before you submit financial information online.”
Souders said some identity theft cases also begin when a culprit digs through trash cans or mailboxes for identifying information that could be used for a scam. He said residents could help protect themselves from identity theft by frequently checking with credit bureaus to determine if there has been any fraudulent activity on their records.
“Keep a close eye on bank accounts daily, shred all your mail and report any fraudulent activity to the police. If you’re on vacation ask the post office to hold your mail,” he said.
“It’s tough for (law enforcement agencies) to do anything with the cases whether they’re in the country or from across the world especially when the theft takes place over a computer or phone, but we do our best to track it down.”