With the swipe of a hand or the clack of a computer key you could be next.
Mail fraud and identity theft is booming in Hollister, with a 100 percent increase in cases from May to June – and police say it isn’t anywhere close to slowing down.
Since the beginning of this year, Hollister Police Detective Rudy Rodriguez estimated that there have been a couple hundred victims of identity theft in Hollister, and there will be at least that many, if not more, before the year’s over.
Police estimate 90 percent of people will get away with it.
In May, Rodriguez was working 49 property crime cases; 16 of them, 30 percent, involved identity theft. This month alone, 13 of the 20 cases assigned to him involve identity theft – about 65 percent, he said.
“It’s ugly. It’s an all-over thing that’s just taking off,” he said. “It’s super easy. It all starts with mail theft or dumpster diving. A lot of people will get credit card applications in the mail and they don’t destroy them and toss it in the garbage can. Then you have Joe Bad Guy who comes along at 4 o’clock in the morning, going through your garbage and comes up with a credit card application with your name preprinted on it.”
By comparison, the Gilroy Police Department has had only 24 cases of identity theft since January, said Crime Analysts Phyllis Ward.
Identity theft occurs when a person takes personal information from someone and uses it for any unlawful purpose, Rodriguez said.
Stealing credit card applications, getting bank account or credit card numbers off discarded statements or stealing entire boxes of checks out of mail boxes are just a few of the ways criminals in Hollister are making livings for themselves off people’s identities, Rodriguez said.
“A lot of them will hit the same mail box over and over – they’ve got personal routines down of when you’ll be home or how long it takes somebody to walk down their driveway to get their mail,” he said. “They’re really creative… and I can honestly say I’ve seen a lot of things that are surprising me every day because there’s new and exciting ways for people to come up for ripping off other people through identity theft.”
Another easy way criminals are stealing people’s identities is through the Internet – through a scam called “phishing,” said Linda Locke, vice president of global communications for Mastercard.
Phishing occurs when e-mails that look like official correspondence from legitimate companies pop up in someone’s in-box that ask for personal and financial information. Many people hand it over because they don’t think it could be a scam, Locke said.
“Be very uneasy of e-mails purporting to be from a financial institution, because chances are they’re not legit,” Locke said.
A common phishing scam in Hollister right now is through eBay. An e-mail blames a computer glitch for erasing information and asks people to send their credit card number, Rodriguez said.
In almost every case Rodriguez has investigated in Hollister, the often-times creative criminals commit the crimes to feed their methamphetamine habit, he said.
One recent case involved a woman with six different people’s credit cards, a stack of mail from different addresses and two different people’s driver’s licenses, Rodriguez said.
“She also had an eight-ball of methamphetamines, two cell phones and a partridge in a pear tree,” he said.
To help combat identity theft, the Hollister Police Department is working with the San Benito County Chamber of Commerce and the Hollister Downtown Association to start a program directed at check fraud, Police Chief Jeff Miller said.
The program would ask local businesses to have ink pads available so people writing checks would have to put a thumb print on the check they’re using – making it easier to track and identify people passing fraudulent checks, Miller said.
“The police department doesn’t have the funds, so we’re trying to get donations from the community to buy the ink pads,” he said. “Because it is skyrocketing.”
Nationwide, identity theft is the fastest growing crime in history, and is a “lazy dirt bag’s dream,” Rodriguez said.
Part of the difficulty in bringing identity thieves to justice is the intricate paper trails and mountains of evidence to put together, he said.
“Cases are difficult to prove – there’s 100 different spin-offs from each case,” he said. “Less than 10 percent of people will actually face charges… I can say a lot of the cases I’ve started are still open because they’re still evolving.”
Erin Musgrave can be reached at 637-5566, ext. 336 or at
[email protected] warn of theft potential