Identity theft on the rise in Redmond and nationwide

Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in Redmond and nationwide, with the 2009 U.S. victim population estimated at 10.4 million, according to Lt. Doug Shepard of Redmond Police Department (RPD).

Redmond Police Department Lt. Doug Shepard said social media is a “huge source of information” for identity thieves.

Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in Redmond and nationwide, with the 2009 U.S. victim population estimated at 10.4 million, according to Lt. Doug Shepard of Redmond Police Department (RPD).

Shepard shared facts about identity theft and tips on how to prevent it at the Greater Redmond Chamber of Commerce’s Sept. 15 luncheon at Matt’s Rotisserie, Redmond Town Center.

WHO’S YOUR BUDDY?

Half of all identity theft is committed by someone the victim knows, said Shepard.

While the elderly are frequently targeted, the largest number of victims are actually in the age group between 20-29, the most likely to freely use social media.

“Facebook is a huge source of information for fraudsters,” Shepard warned. “Everybody puts everything on Facebook and it’s not as secure as they say it is.”

Stolen or lost credit cards or driver’s licenses often lead to identity theft, he added. Other scams happen via telephone or the Internet.

These include advance fee schemes, job scams, sweepstakes/prize scams, foreign lottery scams and so on.

Shepard showed a bogus document made to look like a sweepstakes claim notification. The scammer asks the recipient to send a tax payment of $2,995 in advance of receiving a prize of $250,000.

“If it’s too good to be true, it’s not,” Shepard stated.

SCAMS GALORE

Shepard outlined other common scams:

• Pharming occurs when criminal hackers redirect Internet traffic from one Web site to a different, identical-looking site to trick you into entering your user name and password.

• Phishing is the solicitation of personal and account information through realistic-looking account verification e-mails.

• Vishing (voice phishing) is using the phone to obtain your personal information, usually in an automated recording.

• Smishing refers to social media schemes involving text messaging to your cell phone that sends you to links that ask for your personal information.

SIMPLE PRECAUTIONS

Scammers can easily obtain your personal information by stealing your mail, prowling your car, digging through your trash or installing skimming devices at ATMs, said Shepard.

“Your cell phone nowadays is the computer of 20 years ago,” said Shepard. “But it’s a great source of information for us to investigate fraud.”

Just as text messages can try to infect your phone and gain access to personal data, police can use stored data from your phone to track down the bad guys. Of course, don’t respond to suspicious messages, Shepard said.

And with regard to social networking, via sites like MySpace and Facebook, Shepard commented, “As a cop, it would be a bad idea to tell everyone where I live, what I like to do, what my family looks like. … It’s a bad idea for police or anyone. … And if employees use Facebook at work, now your company is vulnerable because they may provide access to sensitive information. Craigslist is also a huge source of scams.”

“Is there any safe way to use social media?,” a luncheon attendee inquired.

“No,” Shepard replied.

Other tips from Shepard include minimizing the number of credit cards you carry. He said you shouldn’t carry your Social Security Card or print the number on checks or anywhere else.

Shred financial statements and credit card offers and faithfully monitor your bank statements, he added.

Don’t put outgoing mail in your mailbox.

Be suspicious of aggressive customer service representatives and never give personal information to someone who initiated a call to you.

Never leave valuables or personal documents in your car.

Watch out for people hanging around ATMs and call 911 if you see something that makes you uneasy.

WHAT ARE REDMOND POLICE DOING?

Shepard said RPD and other law enforcement agencies are sharing information on suspects, trends, schemes and hot spots involving identity theft.

Through a similar effort, car thefts have been drastically reduced in Redmond and our region, he remarked.

“Coordination, collaboration and cooperation” are key factors, said Shepard — “and it takes help from the private sector, too. Educate yourself and others, be alert, take preventative measures and act quickly if your information is compromised.”

If you have questions for Lt. Doug Shepard, e-mail dshepard@redmond.gov.

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