Identity theft happens year round but thieves strike more frequently during the holidays because of increased shopping activity, according to identity theft expert Zachary Friesen.
He said credit card information is more likely to be stolen as retail stores hire temporary employees to meet the influx of holiday shoppers.
“Identity theft is a very smart crime,” said Friesen who offers identity protection courses in colleges and high schools. “It’s not like they’re snatching and running with it. They know what the best times are and they’re targeting people at those times.”
His courses are funded by Lifelock, an identity protection service.
In Clovis, Police Detective Sonny Smith said residents are often victims of scams involving fraudulent checks.
Smith investigates white-collar crimes such as identity theft and fraud.
Smith said scams involving fraudulent cashier’s checks are common in the area. He said victims often sell their property and end up with checks with forged dollar amounts.
“If someone gives you more money than what you asked for, there’s something wrong,” he said. “Don’t ever cash a money order or a cashier’s check unless you know exactly where it came from. It’s going to be bogus and you’re going to end up owing your bank some money.”
Tips to avoid identity theft:
Here are a few tips to protect yourself from identity theft during the holidays and what consumers should do if they’re a victim of identity theft:
• Check your credit report
Friesen said the three major credit reporting companies are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
Clovis Police detective Sonny Smith said the three companies work with each other and inform one another about credit theft.
“If you check you’ve at least got an idea of what’s going on with it,” Friesen said. “That’s the first and biggest step.”
• Pay attention to credit card transactions
Identity thieves hide their purchases within numerous holiday transactions on a credit card.
“It’s a lot easier to hide (fraudulent purchases) within transactions,” he said.
• Be careful what you throw out
Smith said shredders are a must-have item to protect consumers from identity theft.
“Everybody needs a shredder,” Smith said. “Don’t ever throw anything away that has your information on it.”
• File a police report first if you are a victim of identity theft.
Filing a police report helps get your claim on record, Friesen said. He said police reports help legitimize claims of identity theft when disputing fraudulent transactions.
• Shop with Web sites you know.
For holiday shoppers taking the online route, Friesen said, "It really comes down to knowing what types of web sites you’re going to,” he said.
Online shoppers should look for a security lock on the bottom of the browser or an https:// tag on the URL of the Web site to verify the security of the site, he said.
• Take the time to protect yourself
Friesen said there are services available to remove names from telemarketing lists. But the application process takes time, he said.
“ You have to call and sit through a bit of an automated message, he said. “People want an easy solution and the unfortunate part is you can’t cut corners. When it comes to protecting your identity you really have to do the whole job and for a lot of people that means putting in some time.”
• Be on the alert for scams
“If they contact you, you need to consider it suspect. Whether its e-mail or a phone call, or someone stopping you at the mall for a raffle”, Friesen said. “If they’re asking you for your personal information, you really have no idea who you’re dealing with unless you’ve contacted them.”
• 1-888-85OPTOUT - Number to opt out of marketing lists and pre-approved credit cards
• 270 — Cases of fraud, identity theft and forgery handled by Clovis Police this year, according to Smith.
Credit reporting companies
• Equifax www.equifax.com
• Experian www.experian.com
• TransUnion www.transunion.com