WCD Monthly Meeting 1/8/18: Protecting Yourself Against Identity Theft and other Harmful Scams

Capt. Bob Catlett Jr. Glendale Police Department spoke at West County Democrats monthly meeting on Monday, January 8, 2018.

Identity theft happens when someone gathers information on another person and conducts a variety of activities using that identity for their own personal gain, generally intending to defraud others.  This can be devastating to the victim, costing thousands of dollars to challenge and sometimes leading to a lasting negative impact on their credit rating.  This month, the West County Democrats were fortunate to receive pointers from Capt. Bob Catlett Jr. with the Glendale Police Department, who recently completed FBI training on identity theft.

Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the nation, with an estimated 10 million victims each year.  Captain Catlett thinks this may be because it is perceived to be a low risk crime with a high return.  It is easy for a thief, acting alone, to sit at home and work online to steal personal information about victims, then quickly turn that into an opportunity to defraud companies.  It may take a long time to discover as most people do not monitor their bank accounts and credit rating very closely.  Captain Catlett encourages preventative strategies, stating that these are the best defenses against identity theft as deterrence and apprehension have not proven effective.  Some police departments won’t take a report as jurisdictional issues between local, state and federal agencies can be difficult to sort out.  Captain Catlett stressed the importance of filing reports with the FTC and each of the 3 credit bureaus

Criminals can obtain details about their victims using documents discarded in the trash and receipts from purchases.  Captain Catlett recommends using a cross-cut shredder for these documents when you are finished with them.  Lost or stolen wallets or purses are easily utilized for identity theft but criminals may also steal mail from a mailbox to obtain account numbers or personal details.  By far, the most common methods of identity theft are electronic.  80% of identity theft uses techniques like phishing, Trojan horse links in emails and hacking.  It’s important to stay up to date on identity theft as thieves are always thinking of new and inventive ways of obtaining your personal information.

Targets of identity theft may receive emails or telephone calls asking them to “update records” or insinuating that there is a problem that must be addressed right away.  These emails, popups or calls look like they came from a real bank, credit card or other company, but these companies will never contact their customers this way; if you suspect a contact may be legitimate, you can request a phone number to call back to double check or reach out to the company through their legitimate website.

To avoid some common phishing scams, Captain Catlett recommends never emailing personal or financial information and never saving credit card information in website databases or on your computer.  He also recommends keeping antivirus software on your computer up to date and avoiding the use of public wi-fi, which may not be secure.

You will want to make sure to use a cross-cut shredder when discarding bank statements, credit card offers and bills.  Additionally, it is best to monitor your credit report regularly.  As all 3 credit bureaus are required to provide 1 free credit report each year, Captain Catlett recommends obtaining one report every 4 months from a different bureau.  Information can vary on these reports, but this  is still a good way to monitor your credit.  You should regularly monitor bank statements as well.  You can ask for electronic copies of your bills or, if you prefer paper, make sure you call your bank or creditor if you do not receive your bill on time.  You can also register with the direct marketing association to refuse any unsolicited credit card offers.

Captain Catlett encouraged everyone to speak to friends and others about identity theft, especially young people and parents of small children.  The most common victims of identity theft are young people between the ages of 18-27 and the second most common victims are children under the age of 17, who don’t usually file tax returns and have no reason to monitor their credit.  Education is the best prevention strategy.

Submitted by Jennifer Rushing, WCD Member

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