Identity theft rising in Columbia

Monday, February 23, 2009 | 6:04 p.m. CST; updated 11:37 a.m. CST, Tuesday, February 24, 2009

COLUMBIA — Last year’s increase in larceny in Columbia may be because in small part of a rise in identity theft.

Larceny increased 33.2 percent from 2007 to 2008, according to statistics released recently by the Columbia Police Department.

Tips to protect your identity

• Review your bank and credit card statements monthly.

• Remove your social security number from your driver’s license.

• Keep credit card account information in a safe place.

• Never give bank or credit card account information over the phone unless you initiated the call and know the business.

• Order a copy of your credit report annually and check it carefully.

• Keep your wallet or purse in a secure place at all times.

• When ordering by phone or online, use a credit card rather that a debit card.

• Always take your credit card receipts.

• Cancel credit cards that you don’t use.

• Install a locked mailbox at your home or use a post office box.

• Use a secure mailbox when mailing bills or checks.

• Shred anything with personal identifying information before discarding.

• Store PINs and credit/debit cards in separate safe places.

• Delete all personal information from your computer before disposing of it.

• Remove your name from mailing lists generated by telemarketers.

• Minimize the number of credit cards you carry.

• Don’t carry your social security card with you.

• Never use your social security card for identification.

What is 'personal identifying information'?

• name

• address

• date of birth

• passwords

• PINs

• social security number

How do thieves get your personal identifying information?

• steal your wallet or purse

• steal personal information from your home or vehicle

• steal credit or debit card numbers as the card is being processed

• steal mail from your mailbox

• go through your trash

• pretend to be your landlord or employer to get your credit reports or personnel records

• divert your mail by using a change of address form

• you give it to people you trust

What are the most common kinds of identity fraud?

• credit card fraud

• phone and utility fraud

• bank fraud

• employment-related fraud

• government document or benefit fraud

• loan fraud

Computer precautions

1. Install virus-scanning software on all computers. Update it regularly.

2. Check, download and install security patches for your operating system regularly.

3. Don't download files or click on hyperlinks unless you trust the source.

4. If your computer is directly connected to the Internet (through broadband or DSL), install a firewall. Hardware firewalls are the best protection.

5. Use a secure Internet browser.

6. Don't do online transactions that aren't secure. The link should say "HTTPS:". If it says "HTTP:", it's not secure.

7. Use strong passwords — not guessable, with a combination of letters, numbers and symbols.

8. Log off your computer or laptop at work and any place you leave it unattended.

9. Don't reuse PINs or passwords for access to important information or money.

10. Don't use automatic log-ins for any accounts with sensitive information.

11. Remove sensitive information from your computer before you dispose of it. Get a special program that eradicates data from your disk. A simple delete leaves the data on the disk, only deleting the pointer.

12. When asked for guessable personal information, such as a mother's maiden name, use a password instead. Many people can guess, or figure out, your mother's maiden name, or your place of birth, or first pet.

Prevention tips

To help prevent and expose identity theft, order a credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies annually:

Experian: 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742),, P.O. Box 2002, Allen, TX 75013

Trans Union: 800-680-7289,; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790

Equifax: 800-525-6285,, P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

Related Articles

Identity theft and larceny are now similarly defined under Missouri’s revised Stealing Statute. The change allows for a person to be arrested or prosecuted for possessing or attempting to use fraudulent identification for identity theft.

Identity thieves use several methods to steal someone’s identity, but the most common way is by stealing documents from an acquaintance.  

“Typically in these cases, the victims and the defendants know each other,” said Crime Prevention Officer Jessie Haden of the Columbia Police Department.  Haden lists the home as the No. 1 place that identity theft occurs.

That was the case with 34-year-old Kathryn Jones.

In early February, Jones discovered that a woman she considered her best friend had stolen $1,000 from Jones’ account.

The friend, who had been in Jones’ home, stole checks in random order from Jones’ checkbook so Jones wouldn’t notice right away that they were missing. She then forged Jones’ signature on the checks at local stores such as Gerbes and Kroger. She used the checks from mid-November until Jones discovered the transactions after receiving her bank statement in February.

“She basically had a good Thanksgiving and a good Christmas off of me,” Jones said.

The violation of trust hit Jones hard. “I was crying the whole time because I trusted her,” Jones said. “I never thought she would do this to me.”

Jones is reluctantly pressing charges against her former “best friend.”

In cases like these, one person’s expectations about other people’s moral parameters come into play, Haden said. Imagining the worst can be a form of self-defense: “Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and then remove your conscience,” she said.

Access plays an important role in thieves’ success: “People are not as cautious as they should be. Where I see that most is with physical documents,” Haden said.  

That’s especially true among people ages 18 to 39, who seem especially vulnerable to the myths about identity theft:

  • it’s a stranger-on-stranger crime
  • being computer-savvy gives a person protection
  • perpetrators mainly target older people

Outside of the home or businesses, a common target for identity thieves are vehicles, where people often leave documents.

Haden recalled a case where a thief stole a debit card from a vehicle and used it immediately to buy gas. The thief then invited friends to fill up for free at the victim’s expense.

“It basically boils down to things you can do to protect yourself, and that starts at home,” said Sgt. Lloyd Simons of the department’s Community Services Unit.  

The unit provides detailed information about identity theft and fraud prevention tips.

But Jones offers one of her own: “The moral of the story … don’t trust anybody, not even your friends.”

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