By Stephen Witt
Forewarned is forearmed! Local residents were educated about one of the city’s fastest-growing crimes — identity theft — at the recent 67th Precinct Community Council meeting. Crime prevention officer Malissie Reynolds gave a presentation on the crime, including what identity theft is, how it happens, what precautions could be taken to prevent it, and how one goes about correcting identity theft once it happens. “There’s no one exempt from falling prey to identity theft predators, and once information is obtained by them they have the potential to turn your life upside down,” said Reynolds. “All it takes is one slip of paper with your Social Security number, and with it they [predators] can apply for credit cards, cell phones, apartments, loans, and even open utilities in your name without you knowing it,” she added. Reynolds said one of the frightening aspects of identity theft is that often the victim is oblivious to what is going on until it all crashes down and the creditors are knocking on the door. Identity theft criminals can come from the ranks of dishonest employees, or computer hackers online, or through finding undelivered or junk mail in the garbage, she said. Reynolds said the smart way to stop the crime is to purchase a shredder for all junk mail and all personal mail with your Social Security number that is not needed. It is also suggested that all online shopping sites are reputable and trustworthy, and that all sites have Spyware and firewalls installed, she said. Reynolds also said to never open email that comes from somebody you don’t know. Additionally, Reynolds suggests that residents shop with only the credit cards needed for the purchase at hand, and to cover up with their hand any numbers they may be punching in at the supermarket when paying through a debit card. It is also important to check your credit card bills monthly, she said. Once identity theft is discovered, Reynolds said the first step is to report it to one of the three major credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax or Trans-Union. Other agencies that should be immediately contacted are any accounts that have been compromised and law enforcement agencies. These should be notified both on the phone and in writing, she said. Reynolds said it is crucial that victims get as much documentation as possible and they should make a case file for themselves. A file complaint should also be made to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at (877) IDTHEFT (438-4338) or online at www.consumer.gov/idtheft. The FTC offers assistance to identify theft victims and maintains a confidential identity theft database for investigative and enforcement purposes.