Identity theft is one of the fastest growing and most serious economic crimes in the United States. Identity theft affects financial institutions and more importantly the person's whose identifying information has been illegally acquired and used. It is estimated that identity theft has the potential to cost an estimated $1.5 billion in the United States alone.
The target of identity theft is to obtain “personal identifying information” that will enable the thief to assume the identity of another person for a criminal purpose. “Personal identifying information” means the name, telephone number, driver’s license number, social security number, place of employment, employee identification number, mother’s maiden name, demand deposit account number, savings account number, or credit card number of an individual person.
Identity theft affects institutions financially and has financial and personal costs to the victim. Identity theft victims may sustain monetary loss, damage to credit standing, loss of personal reputation, civil lawsuits, criminal suits, and other traumatic consequences. In some cases the victim has become the subject of criminal investigation because of crimes committed by the perpetrator.
Anyone can become a victim of identity theft. There is no discrimination basis when it comes to identity theft. The perpetrators of these crimes only care about one thing and that is to receive valuable goods, services, or money.
Criminals have found ingenious ways to obtain your personal information. It might be as simple as stealing the mail from your mailbox or searching your thrash for personal information. It can also be as complicated as “skimming.” “Skimming,” is the electronic lifting of the data encoded on a valid credit or ATM card and transferring that data to a counterfeit card. In order to “skim” a credit or ATM card the perpetrators need access to it. For example, an identity thief may work or recruit someone that works at a restaurant, retail store, or other establishments to “skim” the credit or ATM cards.
Some identity thieves prey exclusively on senior citizens. They will conduct a “pretext’ call. “Pretext” call is when a thief telephones the victim or contacts the victims via the Internet and request that the victim provide personal information. Most commonly, the thief will claim that the victim has won a prize or has been selected for a special promotion, which requires the victim to provide personal information.
Identity theft consists of a two-part crime. First they take personal identifying information, then use the information to receive services, buy goods, or receive money. Some of the identity theft cases require two different reports. For example the thief may have stolen your mail at your residence in Cupertino. That part of the crime is the Sheriff’s Office jurisdiction. The thief then uses the credit card in a Target store in the City of Los Angeles. The second part of the crime occurred in the Los Angeles Police Department's jurisdiction. In some cases the Sheriff’s Office will forward the cases to the appropriate jurisdiction. However, detectives in the Property Crime Unit try to work a large portion of the cases that are filed.
The Sheriff’s Office actively investigates such cases of identity theft. The number of identity theft cases is growing rapidly in the valley. It usually takes weeks or even months to locate a suspect in an identity theft case. That is why it is important for the citizens to take crime prevention measures to ensure that they do not become a victim of identity theft.
The following are tips on how to safeguard your good name:
NEVER reveal your personal identifying information unless you know exactly whom you are dealing with.
Read all your personal or business bills carefully. Call your creditors to dispute any charges you did not make or authorize.
It is important to shred all your personal identifying information before throwing it into garbage or recycling bin.
o Pre-approved credit applications
o Credit card receipts
o Other financial information
- Do not leave outgoing mail in your mailbox for collection. Instead, take your mail to the post office collection mailboxes.
- Report all lost or stolen credit cards immediately.
- Remove extra credit cards and ID’s from your wallet or purse. Cancel the ones you do not use and maintain a list of those you do.
- Keep track of all your financial paperwork and destroy it after it has been checked against your monthly statements.
- Memorize your social security number and bank passwords. Don’t record them on any card or keep lists in your wallet or purse.
- Avoid using easily available information like your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last digits of your social security number or the last digits of your telephone number as possible Personal Identification Numbers (PIN).
- Beware of mail or telephone solicitations disguised as promotions offering instant prices or awards. They may be designed solely to obtain your personal information or credit card numbers.
- If you have applied for a new credit card and it does not arrive in a timely manner, notify the credit issuer.
- Have your name, address, and phone number removed from many marketing lists by writing to:
o Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service
PO Box 9008
Farmingdale, NY 11735
o Telephone Preference Service
PO Box 9014
Farmingdale, NY 11735
o 1-888-5-OPTOUT (888-567-8688)
If you are a victim of Identity Theft:
- If you live in an unincorporated area of Santa Clara County, or live in the cities of Los Altos Hills, Saratoga, or Cupertino, call the Sheriff’s Office immediately and file a police report. Get a copy of your case/police report number should your bank, credit card, or insurance companies need proof of the crime.
- Make sure to provide the Deputy all information needed for the case.
Copies of cashed checks or originals if possible.
The account numbers of credit cards that were used or illegally obtained.
Telephone numbers of contacts at the agency in which the criminal activity was initiated.
Any copies of statements or bills of the used or illegally obtained account.
Any suspect information provided by the account holder.
- Keep a detailed log of all contacts and copies of all documents.
- Cancel each credit card and charge card. Get new cards with new account numbers.
- Report the loss to your bank if the bankcard or checking account information may have been stolen. Get a new ATM card, account number, personal identification number (PIN), and password, if applicable.
- If you discover that an identity thief has changed the billing address on an existing account, close the account. When you open any new accounts, ask that a password be used before any inquiries or changes are made on the account.
- Notify the US Postal Inspectors if your mail has been tampered with or stolen. Local numbers are listed under Federal Government in the telephone book or online at
- IMPORTANT. Call the fraud departments of the three major credit-reporting agencies. Ask them to put a fraud alert on your credit account and add a victims’ statement to your file requesting that creditors contact you before opening new accounts in your name. Also request the agencies to provide you copies of your credit reports. Review your reports carefully to make sure no additional fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name or unauthorized changes made to your existing accounts.
PO Box 14021
Atlanta, Georgia 30374-0241
To report fraud call 1-800-525-6285
To order your credit report call 1-800-685-1111
PO Box 949
Allen, Texas 75013-0949
To report fraud or to order credit reports call
PO Box 390
Springfield Pennsylvania 19064-0390
To report fraud call 1-800-916-8800
To order your credit report call 1-800-680-7289
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission to report the problem. The FTC is the federal clearinghouse for complaints by victims of identity theft. The FTC helps by providing information to help resolve the financial and other problems that could result from identity theft.
o Federal Trade Commission
Remember that there are many ways to become a victim of identity theft. It is important to follow the tips provided and learn as much information as possible about identity theft prevention. If you have any questions or would like to receive any further information you can contact Detectives Lundin, Bui, or Rodriguez at 408-808-4500.