By Mary O’KEEFE
As Black/White Friday ushers in the holiday shopping season and shoppers prepare to find that perfect gift, there is another group of individuals that is also excited about the consumer kick-off.
There are people who will take advantage of this shopping season, said Glendale Police Dept.’s Sgt. Dan Suttles.
While identity theft is a concern year-round, with so many people shopping and taking out their identification and credit cards, the holidays are a prime time for thieves to take advantage of distracted shoppers.
“[Victims] may not realize they have had [their identity stolen],” Suttles said.
In the past a victim would realize his or her wallet had been stolen and follow up with a phone call to the bank to close credit cards. But times have changed. Now, said Suttles, it can be as simple as someone taking a photo of a victim’s driver’s license or information from his/her credit card. It can be done quickly and sometimes take months for the victim to realize his/her identity was stolen.
“This [theft] happens every month of the year but especially [during the holidays],” Suttles said.
One of the more prolific identity theft scams targets seniors over the phone.
“Lottery scams and high pressure scams where the [caller] threatens to turn off power [are common],” Suttles said.
There have been phone scams where callers pose as utility personnel who threatened to turn off lights, gas or water if they are not paid a sum. Many victims will give the caller their information or follow the scammer’s instructions to purchase a prepaid debit card to send funds to a designated address.
It is important to note that legitimate utility companies, the Internal Revenue Service and other service companies do not require customers to pay with a prepaid debit card. Reputable companies should have the customer’s personal information already stored.
“One of the biggest things is you have time on your side,” Suttles said. “You always have time to verify the situation and call the water and power department directly. You can generate the phone call.”
Suttles suggested anyone who gets a call concerning bill payment and is suspicious to call the company directly. He added that in the Glendale area one of the more common forms of stealing someone’s identity is through the use of skimmers at gas stations. A skimmer is a device so small it can fit into the palm of a hand and can be placed on an outside gas pump without detection. When the customer slides his or her credit card through the card reader on the pump, it records the credit card numbers. It is difficult for a customer to detect this because the transaction continues as normal. The thieves then return to either pull the skimmer off the gas pump or in some cases get the information downloaded remotely. It is advised to go into the service station to pay instead of using the outside pump.
No one is immune to identity theft – everyone is a target, including teenagers. Teenagers and young adults who are just starting to build their credit history rarely check on it.
“So at the age of 20 they may find that their credit has been used and [someone] has filed bankruptcy [for unpaid bills],” he said. “Teens should be cognizant they might be a prime victim.”
The holiday season is also a time when more delivery trucks can be found on the streets dropping packages on front porches. This is an easy way for thieves to not only steal the package but it is a sign that no one is home. Suttles advises those expecting packages to track them via the delivery service’s applications to make certain it is at the residence or, if the resident knows they will not be home at the time of delivery during the day, have it delivered to their office.
“Try to get it delivered or [dropped off at a home of] someone you trust,” he said.
The key this shopping season is to be vigilant and when something seems suspicious trust your instincts.