Common sense best defense
by Lenny Roberts
An identity thief is someone who acquires some piece of your
personal information with the intent of committing theft or fraud.
And identity theft is the fastest-growing criminal offense in
America, according to Ojai-based Sheriff's Detective Rick Jones,
who said that it's both a white-collar and street-level crime.
"The types of crooks we mostly see here are relatives or
acquaintances who open up accounts in the victim's name,"
he said. But other means that have been reported locally are
the thefts of mail, dumpster diving at businesses, and breaking
into cars to steal wallets and purses left behind when unsuspecting
victims park at unpopulated areas such as trailheads.
Jones said the rash of recent vehicle break-ins throughout the
city and surrounding areas was not an organized effort, but rather
the work of a group of individuals who got together to share
Jones cited a recent arrest that was the result of a traffic
violation. The suspect, a Ventura parolee, was arrested on North
Ventura Avenue after a deputy, entitled to search the man's vehicle,
found a binder full of allegedly stolen driver's licenses and
account numbers hidden under the floorboard.
"I'm pretty sure his previous arrests were for fraud,"
Jones said. "This is such an easy crime to commit that street-level
drug users are getting into it, and we're seeing a lot more of
Criminals turn stolen identities into cash in inventive ways.
For example, they can order an expensive item and have it shipped
to the home of an unsuspecting relative, acquaintance, or just
about anybody. If the suspect knows that a particular house may
be unoccupied during the day, he may sit outside the residence
and wait for the package to be delivered by a postal carrier,
or get on the Internet and track the item if it is being delivered
by a ground carrier. Either way, he gets the package without
the knowledge of the homeowner or the identity theft victim.
One Ojai resident's credit was almost destroyed earlier this
year when his identity was stolen and the suspect actually got
approved for the purchase of a vehicle at a Valencia dealership.
All the crook needed to get the loan - and the brand new car
- Jones explained, was the person's name and Social Security
"Just with a name and birth date, they can open credit card
and other accounts, or get a cell phone," Jones said. "Don't
give out personal information to anyone by mail, over the phone
or on the Internet unless you have initiated the contact. Shred
your mail because criminals dumpster dive, and don't put outgoing
mail in your mailbox and put the flag up. It's like saying 'here
I am and here's my identity.'"
Jones said that an inexpensive paper shredder is a necessity
in every household because shrewd identity thieves have been
known to paste together pieces of torn-up checks and print new
checks - in their automobiles - by using easily purchased check
paper, scanners, lap-top computers and printers. Last week, a
clerk at an Arcade business actually cashed a modified deposit
slip after believing it to be a $200 legitimate check.
"A lot of businesses are being victimized because of people
coming up here and cashing fake checks. Businesses can help by
requesting a thumb print on the checks and requiring identification
for credit card transactions. And citizens can help by not getting
irritated when asked for ID. They should be thanking them,"
Identity victims blindsided
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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