Published in the July 19 – August 1, 2017 issue of Gilroy Life

Image result for Identity theftEarlier this year, the residents of a Morgan Hill townhouse community learned that sometime in the night someone had broken into the back of the “clusterbox” kiosk that collectively holds their mailboxes. The discovery made the residents uneasy. Most likely the perpetrator(s) stole the U.S. mail, a federal crime that could result in prison time, because they were seeking financial statements and other personal information to commit identity theft.

In June, the Gilroy Police Department sent a letter to 53 Fresno Unified School District employees, retirees and their dependents that they might be victims of identity theft after officers arrested three Fresno residents in a Gilroy hotel room.  Andrew Clement, 27; Katie Whala, 28 and Randall McKinney, 28, had allegedly altered credit cards and forged checks. Police also found paperwork containing personal identification information as well as equipment for making credit cards.

The financial resources of the school district employees as well as their dependents’ finances were at risk. The trio had access to their personnel data including names, addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, telephone numbers and other employment information. One teacher reported attempts to open credit cards with his information.

Identity theft is the deliberate use of another person’s identity and is usually done to gain a financial advantage or obtain credit and other benefits in the other person’s name. Identity theft victims the majority of times do not realize that someone has committed this crime against them until it negatively impacts their lives.
In California, depending on the circumstances of the case, suspects can be charged on a felony or misdemeanor for identity theft crimes.

A felony conviction can mean up to three years in jail and/or a fine of $10,000. A misdemeanor result in one year in jail and a fine of $1,000 as punishment.

Identity thieves had a busy year in 2016, hitting a record 15.4 million Americans, up 16 percent from 2015, according to the 2017 Identity Fraud Study from Javelin Strategy & Research.

The Internet is also a growing arena of risk with the rise of card-not-present (CNP) fraud occurring last year. Criminals used stolen credit and debit card numbers to buy merchandise online or over the phone. CNP fraud jumped 40 percent, while point-of-sale fraud remained essentially unchanged. The adoption of chip-based credit and debit cards — which are nearly impossible to counterfeit — makes fraud at the checkout counter more difficult, accounting for the increase of ID theft on the Internet.

Many people learn that their identities have been stolen only after they are contacted by their bank or credit card company or discover suspicious activities on their financial statement. Indicators that you might be a victim of identity theft include:

• Credit or debit card charges for goods or services the victim is not aware of, including unauthorized withdrawals from your account;

• Receiving credit cards that they did not apply for;

• Receiving information that a credit scoring investigation was done. They are often done when a loan or phone subscription was applied for;

• Checks bouncing for lack of enough money in their bank account to cover the illegitimate purchase.

• Unexplained changes to their credit score if someone is using your card;

• Receiving notification from the Post Office that their mail is being forwarded to another unknown address;

• Their annual tax returns showing they earned more than they actually earned, an indication that someone might be using their Social Security Number to report their earnings to the tax authorities.

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Some identity theft criminals even commit crimes with the victim’s personal information. People have had the police come to their door and arrested them for crimes done by some other person. Children can be especially vulnerable. The ID theft of a child might not be discovered for many years, and so by the time they are adults, great damage has already been done to their identities, impacting their careers or finances.

Seniors are also at risk of identity theft. The elderly often have frequent contact with medical professionals who get their medical insurance information, or caregivers and staff at long-term care facilities who can obtain access to personal information or financial documents.

Identity theft is a fact of life in our global digital economy. We encourage our readers to be vigilant to protect their quality of life and watch for unusual activity to safeguard personal and financial information to reduce the opportunity of crooks committing this crime.

IF YOU ARE A VICTIM…

Report an ID theft immediately to the FTC, online or by phone at 1-877-438-4338. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to report it and get a personalized recovery plan. Once you file the ID theft report with the FTC, you will have an ID theft affidavit. Print and take the ID theft affidavit with you to file the crime with the local police. The ID affidavit and your police report are your identity theft report. Your identity theft report will be very important as you resolve the problem with creditors, banks, and any other companies where fraudulent accounts were set up in your name. You may also report specific types of identity theft to other agencies.