Police issue warnings about identity theft, break-ins

By Kathy Day

By Kathy Day

kday@lajollalight.com

If you’ve been watching La Jolla crime alerts lately, you may have noticed a spike in fraud, residential break-ins and car burglaries.

Alan Alvarez, the community relations office for San Diego Police Northern Division, last week provided details on more than a dozen recent cases, noting that the increases have been reported citywide.

And with the holidays, there’s a likelihood the numbers will continue to climb unless people pay more attention to safety tips police offer year-round, he added.

If they don’t pay attention, they may end up victims of identity theft.

Alvarez is the officer who makes the rounds at Bird Rock Community Council, La Jolla Shores and Town Council meetings, as he says, “preaching” about being smart with your belongings and surroundings.

Nearly every fraud case he detailed involved reports that individuals’ credit cards had been used to obtain cash or to make purchases — but not by the authorized cardholder.

And way too many of the break-ins involved unlocked car doors or open windows, he added.

Two late October incidents on Via Alicante involved neighboring homes where thieves entered through unlocked windows and took laptops and other computer gear.

In another case on Camino del Oro, a man left his key in the wheel well of his car and went surfing. When he returned, told police, he didn’t notice anything amiss until he went to buy food on the way home and discovered his wallet was missing.

Not only the wallet — but also the $400 in cash, his credit cards AND his Social Security card, Alvarez said.

That’s a perfect set-up for identity theft to be the next step on the thief’s list.

The San Diego-based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse website reports that “every day most of us give away information about ourselves — sometimes knowingly and other times when we do not even realize it.”

One of those ways, said Alvarez, is through credit card solicitations that come in the mail. “Shred them,” he said, so it makes it harder for a criminal to get a credit card in your name that you don’t know about.

Another is through scammers that hack into online purchase information and steal personal data. The clearinghouse cautions: “If you are an Internet user, do not send sensitive information (phone number, password, address, credit card number, SSN) by chat lines, e-mail, instant messages, forum postings, or in your online profile. Assume your messages are not private unless encrypted.”

A special holiday greeting from Northern Division Capt. Brian Ahearn, acting Lt. Steve Shaw and Alvarez makes another suggestion: Use a virtual account number.

They point to services offered by many credit card companies that “generate a random credit card number that makes it virtually impossible for anyone to steal your account number while shopping online.”

It’s only good for a short period of time, even though it’s charged to your real account. Be sure to check details on this, because these numbers can’t be used for ID when picking up purchases.

You can also opt for a limited amount “cash card” that is not connected to your bank account, Alvarez said. Another option is to make all online purchases on one credit card so it’s easier to watch as charges come in. That reduces the risk not only of identity theft but also of having your cash stolen.

“Don’t carry large amounts of cash,” Alvarez said.

And, if by the luck of the draw, you do have a break-in or strange charges on your accounts, report it to the police regardless of the size of the loss. Getting information helps police key in on trends and enables them to target specific areas for increased patrol if there is a rash of crimes in a neighborhood.

Learn more about identity theft at:

www.privacyrights.org

www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/

www.idtheftcenter.org/

id-protect.org

Holiday Safety Tips

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