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Look Out for Identity Thieves

(Photo: Don Hankins)

By Octavia Bullock

Bronx Journal Staff Writer

They don’t break into your house to steal your possessions, but they may rummage through your garbage to take even more valuable assets.

They are not out to mug you for your credit cards, but they steal them anyway, simply by looking over your shoulder.

They may not ask you for your Social Security number, but they may overhear you when you recite it while applying for credit.

They are   thieves of a different kind – identity thieves.

An identity thief is anyone who commits fraud by using your personal or physical identification without your permission. It could even be a friend, a relative, a roommate, or a guest that was invited into your home.

They are after your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, bank statement and credit card numbers. If they can obtain that information for your spouse and children also, that’s even better.

If you give them a chance, they’ll steal your identity – especially during the tax season, when many forms need to be filled out and it becomes easier for them to strike.

Identity theft is a serious crime. These thieves can make your life a living nightmare, you could lose all that you own, and you may be arrested for a crime you didn’t commit.

Yet there are still a large number of victims who don’t report it. They hope that the problem goes away by itself.

In fact, more than 10 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. And in some parts of the country, the problem is getting worse.

According to the Bronx District Attorney’s Office, identity theft has increased in the borough during the past year. In New York, according to the Federal Trade Commission, credit card fraud increased by 32 percent in 2005, while phone or utility fraud went up by 20 percent. Other kinds of identity theft increased by 23 percent.

Don’t let this happen to you. These thieves love to listen to your conversation at college offices, tax preparation agencies, banks, employment offices, department stores, motor vehicle agencies and other places where you may be required to identify yourself.

(Photo: Bryan Rosen)

If they can get a hold of this information, they can rent an apartment, obtain credit cards, and buy expensive gifts in your name, as well as your spouse’s and children’s names.

Many identity thieves are well dressed and unsuspecting.  Here are some helpful tips to help you protect your identity during this tax season:

• Don’t call out your Social Security number and date of birth out loud, especially in public places.

• When preparing your tax documents, shred all incomplete forms.

• Let the tax preparer know that you don’t want your documents face up, where others can view them.

• Beware of people looking over your shoulder when using your credit cards and spending your tax refund in department stores.

• Don’t leave your Social Security card and birth certificate in your wallet. Keep them at home, in a safe place.

• Shred all documents that you don’t need before throwing them in the trash.

• Beware of pickpockets. Safeguard your wallet and your purse.

If you have been a victim of identity theft, contact your local police precinct, or your local District Attorney’s Office. For Bronx residents, ask for Detective Investigator Joseph Martinez at the Bronx District Attorney Office at 718-590-6783.  The Citizens Complaint Unit is located at 198 E. 161st St., third floor. And file a report with the Federal Trade Commission at  1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338).

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