MILLEDGEVILLE — Both Milledgeville Police Department and Baldwin County Sheriff's Office officials have recently noted an increase in the number of reports of a common crime — identity theft.
In particular, most reports are related to unknown cell phone accounts with Verizon Wireless being created without the account holder's knowledge. By the time the account holder is aware of the fraudulent charges, a fairly large number of charges for cell phones and accessories have been billed to the victim.
“The best way to avoid this crime is to check your bank and credit card accounts regularly for unrecognizable charges,” said Det. Bobby Langford of the Sheriff's Office.
Langford is very familiar with this type of crime having investigated several cases.
According to Langford, identity theft is increasing because residents often share too much personal information on social networking sites and provide information to people they do not know through the phone and computer too easily.
“The main thing that comes up a lot with the identity theft cases at the sheriff's office is people pretending to be representatives from the credit card or bank calling or emailing to verify your last payment. They claim that it did not go through and that they need the information once again,” he said.
Most people do not question the authenticity of the person requesting the information. Once all personal information has been collected, the person has free reign to make purchases in someone else's name.
Langford's advice is for residents to be more cautious, especially when it comes to personal information. Question the individual calling or emailing about the account. Ask for the specific reason why payment has not been received. This will throw the identity thief off and their real intentions will be revealed, he said.
Langford also advises people to shred their documents.
“Shred any documents that has any information with your credit card or social security number information on it. Identity thieves count on you just throwing it away and not worrying about anyone searching for the information,” said Langford.
For residents who do happen to find accounts created with their identy, Langford recommends immediately contacting the credit card or bank to which the account has been charged.
“The sooner they find out about the illegal financial transactions the sooner they can place a hold on your account to prevent further purchases from being placed,” he said.
After the financial institution or credit card company has been notified about the fraudulent account the next step, according to Langford, is to contact the business where the account was created and to file a report with the local law enforcement agency.
“Whether it's Verizon or some other company, they need to know that you were not the person who created the account. This way if the person attempts to add additional charges using your identity, a representative can notify you. You can then take this information to the police which makes it easier for us to track the person down.”
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