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Police give tips to combat identity theft

April 08, 2010|By ANDREW SCHOTZ
  • Detective Arnold B. Cerezo, left, and Sgt. Christopher Howard of the Washington County Sheriff's Department offer tips on preventing identity theft Wednesday during a breakfast event hosted by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN -- Shred, shred, shred.

That's one of the best ways to keep identity thieves at bay, Washington County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Christopher Howard said Wednesday.

He said many people immediately throw away junk mail. But pieces that contain a name, address or other information can help thieves who find it later.

Howard and Detective Arnold B. Cerezo spoke Wednesday morning about how criminals hijack personal information and how would-be victims can prevent it.

The presentation at the Academy Theatre Banquet & Conference Center was part of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce's "Eggs and Issues" series.

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The Federal Trade Commission estimates that up to 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year.

Howard said thieves steal information to get cell phones or to open bank or credit card accounts.

He suggested shredding all paper with identifying information before throwing it out and paying with cash as often as possible.

The more people who handle a credit card, especially out of the cardholder's sight, the greater the chance someone will try to use it fraudulently, he said.

Even with those precautions, information gets around. Howard suggested that everyone do a Google search on themselves online to see what information is circulating.

People can contact the three major credit agencies -- Equifax, TransUnion and Experian -- for free reports of charges on their accounts.

Cerezo said identity theft is a growing crime, but a tough one to prosecute. Police can't investigate thefts on a bank or credit card account until the accountholder gives the institution permission to share records, he said.

During an interview after the presentation, Howard said identity theft usually is a one-on-one crime, meaning one thief and one victim, but the sheriff's department in recent months helped stop at least two large-scale crimes.

Shortly before Christmas last year, a man was stopped at Kmart in Washington County with a stack of fraudulently obtained credit cards, while trying to use one, Howard said.

About two months ago, at a local store, the sheriff's department caught someone who was part of an East Coast credit-card fraud ring, he said.

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