ID theft increases: What you can do to prevent it
When Dennis Sorenson first started with the Pierce County Sheriff's Department over 25 years ago, identity theft was a crime that hardly existed.
Today, he wishes that was the case.
"We've seen a big progression of those within the last five years," said Sorenson, now a lieutenant in the sheriff's department. "Thanks to the internet, they're getting more common all the time."
Identity theft is getting so common, he added, longstanding crimes such as burglary and theft have been going on a downward trend.
And it only gets worse for law enforcement.
"It's an extremely tough crime to solve," he said. "I don't see it slowing down; I see it getting worse."
Identity theft also usually involves violations such as credit card fraud, computer fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, financial institution fraud and social security fraud.
"There are so many different types of scams out there," Sorenson said. "Getting free money from the government, money orders, secret shoppers and trying to verify certain information on your bank account, for example."
Bank accounts can be a delicate situation, explained Raynee Farrell, assistant vice president for Bank Mutual in Ellsworth.
"With direct deposit and shopping online, it's a big concern," she said. "There are so many different ways people can get a hold of a person's checking account.
"It's a real hassle for the person who has had it stolen."
Farrell gave a couple of key steps in dealing with identity theft:
- If your purse or wallet is stolen, cancel your cards immediately. "If a person gets a hold of them, they could go to Wal-Mart or Target and charge up a storm without you knowing it," she said.
- Contact one of the following credit report agencies: Equifax, 1-800-525-6285; Experian 1-888-397-3742 or TransUnion 1-800-372-8391. Each agency is bound by law to report your loss to the other two.
- File a police report. This step is important if your identity is stolen, Farrell said, because a copy of the report makes it easier to prove that future card charges are not your own, so you can't be held liable.
- Finally, she said, be in control of the situation. "When it comes to giving personal information over the phone, make sure it is you that is initiating the contact."
Both Sorenson and Farrell preached awareness in making sure you don't become a victim.
"Be careful with your financial reports," Sorenson said. "When you're done with them, shred all bank accounts and documents."
Also, he added, use common sense.
"If it sounds too good to be true, that's because it usually is."
Farrell added to take every card or statement out of your wallet or purse and photocopy both sides. Then, take the photocopies and put them in a safe place.
Based on past experiences, Sorenson said, rural areas are a hotspot for this crime.
"Pick up your mail in a timely fashion," he advised. "Don't let it sit overnight."
Sorenson said identity theft is going to be more difficult to solve because he believes it's tied to the present status of our economy. He further mentioned law enforcement has been playing catch-up to criminals in this case, but the gap is narrowing.
"There isn't a quick fix for it," he said. "All we can do is educate people because the crooks out there are figuring out new ways to scam. They are well-trained and they use that to their advantage."