Despite recent warnings, the number of identity thefts in San
Benito County continues to increase and law enforcement officials
are concerned the problem will worsen if residents do not take
steps to protect themselves.
With the Christmas shopping season set to begin in earnest Friday, local law enforcement is asking residents to hold on to their purses and wallets a little tighter to prevent being ripped off.
Despite recent warnings, the number of identity thefts in San Benito County continues to increase and law enforcement officials are concerned the problem will worsen if residents do not take steps to protect themselves.
“It’s pretty much a year-round problem now,” said Hollister Police Capt. Bob Brooks. “Now would be a good time to be extra careful.”
Detective Dave Hackman with the San Benito County Sheriff’s Department has been trying to reduce the growing tide of thieves using people’s personal information.
An increasing number of residents are being victimized by thieves who steal personal information such as Social Security and driver’s license numbers and then use them to obtain credit cards, bank loans, checking accounts and other financial services.
Many are also gaining access to most personal information by stealing mail or going so far as rummaging through the garbage to get the personal information.
“This is also the time of year when people start sending checks to nephews and nieces,” Brooks said.
He said residents who know what time their postal carriers normally arrive should be prepared to remove it from the box as soon as possible.
“You don’t want to leave your mail sitting in your mailbox for hours,” Brooks said.
Thieves have been stealing more than just the obvious checks or money being mailed between parties. They are also focusing on credit card applications, bank statements and utility bills.
With the information, thieves can produce fraudulent accounts with the victim’s identity and use it to run up huge credit card bills, write thousands of dollars in fraudulent checks, sign financing agreements to buy new cars and an assortment of other scams.
Hackman said thieves do not have to go through your mail box to steal your personal information.
“As you are standing in line shopping for gifts, clerks may be asking you for your Social Security number, bank account number or driver’s license,” Hackman said. “You need to be aware of who is around there. A suspect could use that information to commit check fraud.”
He said taking a few steps to protect yourself from identity theft can save a lot of aggravation.
“Get a secure mail box or get a post office box and deposit any outgoing mail into a safe, secure area such as a metal mail box,” Hackman said.
He said residents mailing checks should sign only with a ball-point pen because many of the identity thieves have a chemical “wash” that can wipe off ink from a felt-tip pen or graphite from a pencil.
One precaution people can take is to photocopy both sides of their credit cards, driver’s license and important documents and store the copies in a safe place.
“So that if those items are lost or stolen, you can get your account stopped right away,” Hackman said.
He also said residents should be careful of investment scams conducted over the telephone that promise enormous returns.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Hackman said.