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Police warn of tricks used by identity thieves

April 30, 2007|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN - Whether it is an e-mail informing you of lottery earnings in a far-off country or a person who calls asking for account numbers to verify bank information, Washington County Sheriff's Department Deputy 1st Class Dan Watson says to be wary.

"If you really need something, you initiate contact with the credit card company or the car (dealership) or the bank, and if you initiate contact, it's fine," Watson said.

Otherwise, hit the delete button or hang up, Watson said.

Though they did not have numbers of recent identity-theft cases, Watson and other law-enforcement officers said it is occasionally reported. Sheriff's Department Lt. Tim Baker said the cases are coded as thefts.

According to the 2006 preliminary Uniform Crime Report provided by the Maryland State Police, 2,367 thefts were reported in 2006 in Washington County, compared with 2,306 the previous year.

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"That's the big thing around here - you know, burglaries - people break into your house, (and) they may be breaking in just to steal your ID," Watson said.

Last year, there were 786 reports of breaking and entering, the Uniform Crime Report shows.

In one of the most recent credit card cases filed in Washington County District Court, Robert Carroll Eichelberger, 36, of 808 Orchard Manor Drive in Boonsboro, was charged with 43 counts of crimes related to credit card theft, including using another person's credit card and theft scheme.

Eichelberger allegedly made purchases with a credit card from a coin purse a woman told police she dropped March 28 at the Boonsboro branch of Hagerstown Trust. According to a court charging document, the victim left the bank at about 2:30 p.m., and she realized she was missing the coin purse when a MasterCard representative called at about 7:15 p.m. to ask about suspicious activity on her account.

The purchases totaled hundreds of dollars and included stops at gas stations, a Fairplay tavern, a Boonsboro liquor store and Wal-Mart.

To protect themselves, Watson said, people should carry only one credit card and keep information about that credit card - so it can be reported missing - at home. He said there's no need to carry around information like Social Security or medical cards that would give enterprising thieves the opportunity to access bank accounts or other records.

Watson also advised shredding all unnecessary personal documents and creating account passwords with random combinations of letters and numbers - even if the computer prompt asks for a mother's maiden name.

At stores or offices where employees ask for Social Security numbers, Watson said, people should ask how their information will be protected, and why it's needed.

People also periodically should check their credit reports. Being unexpectedly turned down for loans or discovering that bills have turned up missing are red flags, Watson said.

When it comes to their personal information, Watson said people should keep their guard up.

"Unfortunately, we live in this society now where you have to worry about everything when you put your name down," Watson said.




Credit reports



Consumer reporting companies Equifax, Experian and Trans-Union are required to provide free credit reports once a year to consumers who request them.

For more information, or to order a report, go to www.annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228.

Consumers also may write to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.

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