Scams ID theft surface in county

Published 10:23 pm Friday, October 31, 2008

It is an all to common scenario.

An elderly couple receives a letter in the mail with a $125,000 check claiming they have won some kind of prize.

In the letter they are asked to do nothing more than deposit the check and send the awarding company the amount owed for the taxes.

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Warning lights and bells should be in overdrive at this point.

Unfortunately, people would be surprised over how many people actually fall for it. They take the check to their bank deposit and send off the amount for the taxes, about $2900 worth.

A few days later another letter comes in the mail; this one from the couple’s bank informing them their prize check bounced.

Marengo County Chief Deputy Sheriff Tommy Reese says this kind of theft is on the rise in the county, leading local law enforcement agencies to warn people of possible scams.

“We’ve seen a significant rise in identity thefts, consumer fraud and scams in the past six months,” said Reese. “As the economy gets tighter, criminals tend to get a little more bolder with these types of scams and innocent people looking for a quick fix to their money problems are quick to take a gamble and fall for such schemes.”

Reese said he recently had a case where someone did another person’s income taxes. The person doing the tax forms ended up stealing his client’s social security number and obtained a line of credit in their name.

Each month, more arrests are being made for ID theft.

Last week the Demopolis Police Department arrested Kendra Michelle Taylor of Demopolis for two counts of identity theft.

“It used to be that robbers would use guns and knives to steal your money. Now they use the computer, the telephone and the mail,” said Reese. “We expect to see a rise in these kinds of crimes during the holiday season. People need to take caution.”

Here are some ways Reese recommends that people safeguard against being a victim of identity theft or scam:

Protect your Social Security number

Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your Social Security number on a check. Give your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary, and ask to use other types of identifiers. If your state uses your Social Security number as your driver’s license number, ask to substitute another number. Do the same if your health insurance company uses your Social Security number as your policy number.

Your employer and financial institutions will need your Social Security number for wage and tax reporting purposes. Other businesses may ask you for your Social Security number to do a credit check if you are applying for a loan, renting an apartment or signing up for utilities. Sometimes, however, they simply want your Social Security number for general record keeping. If someone asks for your Social Security number, ask:

1. Why do you need my Social Security number?

2. How will my Social Security number be used?

3. How do you protect my Social Security number from being stolen?

4. What will happen if I don’t give you my Social Security number?

 Treat your trash and mail carefully

Be on guard when using the Internet

 Safeguard your purse and wallet