IT’S ONLY MY OPINION: ‘Tis the Season For the Identity Theft Man

By Stanley P. Gershbein

Christmas season is long gone and now as the postman brings you your credit card bills, you’re faced with paying for all of the gifts and holiday dinners you charged. “Holy Cow, how the heck did I run up a tab for four thousand dollars? The very most it could be is five hundred. Hmmm. Let’s take a good look at the statements, item by item. I didn’t charge that. I didn’t eat at that restaurant. I never shopped at that store. This charge is not mine. Another one is not mine. I think Mastercard is making a mistake.” One call to the number on the back of the plastic, a long wait to speak to a real live person, and “Oh, my God. I am the victim of…what’s that he called it? Identity theft?.” Identity theft is rapidly becoming one of the most common crimes in America and yet there are so many of us that haven’t the foggiest idea of what it is. Simply put – identity theft is the illegal use of someone else’s personal information in order to obtain money or credit. In the past five years, more than twenty-eight million Americans were victims of identity theft, ten million in the last year alone. Last year’s losses to businesses and financial institutions totaled about fifty Billion – that’s Billion with a capitol B – dollars. Consumers paid out another five Billion. Fifty-five Billion for a crime that doesn’t require the use of a gun…no wonder identity theft has become so popular. So tell us, Gershbein, how do these thieves get this information about us? There are many ways. They rummage through your trash to get bank statements and credit card information. They search through your mailbox before you get to it. They rifle your pocket book if you’re careless about where you leave it at work. Lots of ways. But mostly, you give it to them. Really? How so? A smooth talker pretending to be working for your bank or the telephone company will call you. There’s a problem with your account and in order to fix it he has to ‘verify’ certain information. Naturally you want to cooperate. By the time the call is finished he has enough information on you to do all his Christmas shopping. The most recent scams involve official looking emails being sent to consumers from the ‘I.R.S.’ and/or other government offices demanding certain information. To avoid penalties this information must be forwarded stat. Here’s another very common method. Many insurance and Medicare cards have your Social Security number printed right on them. Every time you walk into a pharmacy, physicians office or hospital you present this card and just about everything else a thief has to know about you – your address, birthday and God knows what else. Maybe if there were enough complaints to the powers that be there might be some changes. Please write and let me know what your thinking is on this. ******** The best bumper sticker I’ve seen in a loooong time read: HANG UP AND DRIVE! ******** There’s a sale on the ten-ounce shrimp ring at the local supermarket. Ten ounces? Well the label says ten ounces. Read the label again and you’ll see in very tiny print that the package contains six ounces of shrimp and four ounces of sauce. They’re not lying but they’re exactly telling the truth either. ******** Contrary to the rumors that are flying around Miami Beach, Florida is not the fastest growing state in the country. Neither is Arizona or New Mexico. The fastest growing state in America is ….drum roll please … Nevada with nine new permanent residents every hour. Yes. I said every hour. ******** Here’s a bit of trivia that might stimulate conversation at your next cocktail party when it slows down. Who said, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Answer: Robert Frost. Waddya’ mean, Who’s Robert Frost? Robert Frost is one of the most famous twentieth century American poets. That proverb about good fences is from one of his most famous works, “Mending Wall.” Now here’s where the real conversation at your party comes in. There’s lots of talk about building good fences between the southern portion of the United States and Mexico. Will it make us better neighbors? What’s your thinking on this? ******** At the end of every column I ask you to include your real name, address and telephone number for verification purposes only. Whether or not you agree with me, much of your correspondence is worthy of publication and we just want to make sure that a neighbor didn’t write it using your name. Every week I receive several E-mails without that information and I’m not sure why. Either you think my efforts stink and you don’t bother reading them to the end, in which case, I have to wonder where you saw my Email address. It also appears near the end. Or perhaps, you vehemently disagree with me and just want to sound off. Some of you really do oppose my thoughts. This is America and that’s OK. I just wish you would stay out of the gutter and put a harness on the sarcasm. You have your opinions, I have mine and I see nothing wrong with creating some sort of dialogue. I am StanGershbein@BellSouth.net repeating what people a lot wiser and more important than us said about this situation. “Let us disagree without being disagreeable.”

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