Identity Theft: Don’t be duped

Elsie Hodnett
10/7/2007 – Identity theft is an ongoing issue as criminals invent new schemes or refine older schemes in order to steal personal information from people.
And local residents are no exception when it comes to falling prey to this type of crime.

One Cropwell woman, who asked that her name not be used, said her identity was recently stolen.

“The person who stole my purse probably knows everything about me,” she said. “I had to get a new driver’s license, credit cards, social security card, and Medicare card.”

The Cropwell woman said she had forged checks that were paid and had to be reimbursed by her bank.

“The credit card companies were very helpful,” she said. “When I got home from filling out the police report, they were already calling me asking about suspicious activity on the account. It was just physically and emotionally a hassle to have to get new checkbooks, credit cards, driver’s license and more.”

The Cropwell woman said she was working with detectives to catch the person responsible for stealing her identity.

While stealing a purse or wallet to gain access to a person’s identity is still a method used by criminals, others are becoming more high tech.

“The identity theft we are seeing is mostly Internet driven,” said Brent Davis, First American Bank president for St. Clair County.

Davis said one current scam involves a bogus email from someone pretending to be a bank, lending or other financial institution. The email asks for you to verify information such as your full legal name, social security number, date of birth, account numbers and more.

“That scam is the No. 1 common thing we see,” said Chris Camille, branch manager for the First American Bank in Pell City.

Davis said another way con artists can get personal information is from people who don’t properly shred their documents such as bank statements.

“Shred your documents,” he said. “Crisscross shredders are worth the money spent. It is the only way to safeguard your information.”

Another way con artists can steal personal information is by calling a person and pretending to be from a bank asking to verify information, Davis said.

“Know your banker,” he said. “Know who they are and how to reach them. If the caller says they are from your bank, ask to call them back. Look up the number yourself instead of letting them provide you with a call-back number.”

Davis said it is important to check bank statements for accuracy.

“I recommend Internet banking because it is live information,” he said. “You can see your transactions sooner and can detect fraud sooner.”

Davis said he recommends checking your bank accounts at least once a week or more often to make sure the transactions are accurate.

“Be careful using ATM machines as well,” he said. “There is an ATM attachment that con artists use. It reads your card when you do a transaction, giving the person your card number and pin number.”

Davis said if the ATM appears suspicious, do not use the ATM and report your suspicions to the proper authorities.

Lincoln Police Chief Travis McGrady said a good deterrent to identity theft is to never give out personal information.

“Shred anything with personal information on it,” he said. “Report identity theft immediately to the police and notify your bank, your credit card companies, the credit agencies and other companies you do business with.”

McGrady said even if a person thinks they have lost items that contain personal information in them, such as a purse or wallet, they can fill out an information report with their local police department.

“A person can fill out the information report noting the item is lost, in case someone finds it and steals their identity,” he said.

Talladega Police Chief Alan Watson said the information reports help establish a paper trail, making it easier to recoup stolen money.

“The information report gives you proof that you did report the lost item,” he said. “We do a good amount of information reports regarding lost items that contain personal information.”

Though Watson said he has seen no recent increases in identity theft, the problem is persistent.

“It is more of a steady thing,” he said. “People need to be careful about who has their personal information.”

Sylacauga Police Chief Louis Zook said cases of identity theft are reported on a fairly steady basis.

“Not a week goes by without someone reporting some type of identity theft,” he said.

Zook said the types of identity theft vary, covering a wide variety of scams.

“The cases we are seeing are usually not local,” he said. “The victim is here, but the incident has occurred somewhere across the country.”

Zook said the Sylacauga Police Department also takes information reports regarding lost personal information items.

“We advise people who lost those items of the steps to take, such as notifying their bank, all their credit card companies, and the credit bureaus so they can flag the person’s credit for possible theft,” he said. “That way, if identity theft occurs, it is easier to clear up.”

McGrady said the most important thing is to safeguard your personal information.

“If you think the integrity of your personal information has been compromised, report it,” he said.

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