Tri-Village News

Grandview Police: Diligence, discretion can help thwart identity theft

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Reports of identity theft are on the rise across central Ohio, and Grandview has not escaped the trend.

In recent weeks, Grandview Heights police officers have taken reports in a number of such cases, including:

* A woman reported someone had stolen her account number and used it in numerous places around town before her credit union's monitoring system contacted her about the suspicious activity.

* A man reported his debit-card account had been used to make unauthorized charges totaling $447 at a store, gas station and mini-market in the Cincinnati area.

* An attempt to purchase items was made using the name of a local business and, in one incident, a credit application was filled out using the company's information and bank-account number.

"It's definitely becoming a growing problem," Grandview police officer Scott Bruney said. "It's not that hard for criminals who know what they're doing to access people's personal information, and criminals have calculated that there's relatively low risk and high reward" in identity theft crimes.

"If I hold up a bank, there's security cameras and I actually have to go into the bank -- it's a high risk," Bruney said. "If I can use a credit-card number or personal information, there's not nearly as much risk and I can do it from a far-away state or even a foreign country, especially if I have the help of someone in (the victim's) state."

Thieves don't even need a credit-card number; just being able to make an imprint of the magnetic strip on the back of a card will allow a criminal to make unauthorized charges, he said.

A common ploy criminals use is to swipe a card a customer has given them a second time in order to store the information from the magnetic strip on a storage device.

"If I go and buy a bunch of gift cards from Walmart, it's untraceable," Bruney said.

Savvy criminals also can "get an amazing amount of information about someone if they know what they're doing on the Internet," he said.

In making purchases and using other online services, people often don't realize just how much they may be revealing about themselves, Bruney said.

"You don't realize how much personal information you're putting out there if you open a Facebook page," he said.

Bruney said it's important to use common sense in order to protect yourself.

"You should only do business with reputable stores or online companies you can trust," he said.

Cardholders should try to keep their credit cards where they can see them and be willing to ask why a card is being swiped a second time, he said.

By law, consumers are allowed to obtain one free credit check each year, Bruney said.

"Take advantage of that," he said, "and check your credit-card statement. If you see an item that seems strange, contact your card company."

The Ohio Attorney General's Office has information and tips about protection from identity theft at its website, ohioattorneygeneral.gov, Bruney said.

"That's a good resource people can use," he said.

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