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Identity theft: It can happen to anybody

Think your identity is safe?

Think again.

Identity theft can happen to anyone as more than 100 people discovered at the Silverdale Community Center on Wednesday. They receiveD helpful hints and tips on how they can prevent becoming a victim of identity theft, something that is quickly becoming the fastest growing white-collar crime in the United States, according to Washington State Patrol detectives Dave Startup and Jesse Regaldo from the WSP/Department of Licensing Identity Theft Unit based in Olympia.

“We are in the midst of an identity crisis,” Startup said.

Washington state is currently No. 10 in the country for the number of identity theft crimes and the holiday season is a prime time for perpetrators to commit the crime, Startup said. He spoke of the emotional and financial strain that being a victim of identity theft can do to a person and their family and said the average victim spends $1,500 and 175 hours to repair their credit.

Although Seattle, Tacoma and Vancouver are the top three cities in Washington in terms of identity theft crimes each year, “Kitsap County is a hot- bed for identity theft,” Startup said. But he also said that Kitsap County is very aggressive on identity theft.

“We can prosecute across counties and that’s kind of nice,” Startup said. “Identity theft doesn’t stop in Washington. We work closely with other state agencies. We attempt to prosecute them to the max.”

He explained that it takes about a year for victims to notice that their identity has been stolen and 80 percent of victims have no idea how their ID got into criminals’ hands.

Startup and Regaldo explained that there are many ways people can obtain personal information including stealing wallets or purses that contain IDs and credit cards or bank cards, stealing mail, completing a change of address form to divert mail to a different location, rummaging through trash, fraudulently obtaining credit reports, scamming through the telephone or e-mail by posing as legitimate companies or agencies, getting information from businesses by stealing records from an employer or bribing an employee who has access to records, or by finding personal information in a home or on a computer.

Regaldo spoke of the dangers of potential identity theft that lurk in computers such as unsecured home networks, Internet cafes and servers. One example of a very well known computer scam is the Nigerian e-mail scam which has had victims who live right here in Kitsap County. He explained ways to stay safe while using a computer which included not clicking on any links, using a software firewall or router, using antivirus and Spyware detection software and not purchasing items online.

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