Identity theft is on the rise in Central Kitsap

With many Americans struggling to make ends meet, Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) spokesman Deputy Scott Wilson said identity theft may be on the rise.

Wilson said KCSO had 25 identity theft cases in Central Kitsap in 2006, but that number skyrocketed in 2007 with 70 cases and 79 cases in 2008. Wilson said between Jan. 1 and March 24 of this year, KCSO has already recorded 38 identity theft cases.

“We’re already halfway there, so we know that number is going to go way up,” he said.

Wilson said the methods criminals use to steal people’s identities are “many and varied” because they typically only need someone’s full name, date of birth and social security number.

“These are situations where somebody’s identity has been used by somebody else for goods, services or money,” Wilson said. “You really do want to protect your personal information.”

While KCSO has seen an increase in identity theft cases, the Bremerton Police Department (BPD) had a slight decrease.

From March 2007 to March 2008, BPD recorded 53 identity theft cases, but between April 2008 and March of this year, the department only handled 39 cases.

Bremerton Police Detective Rodney Harker said he thinks identity theft in Bremerton has “topped out and is on a downswing,” but it still happens, so people must protect themselves.

Harker said one of the most common types of identity theft is when someone steals a person’s credit card or credit card number to purchase items.

“Generally there’s not a takeover of your whole name or identity,” he said.

Harker said some businesses still print a person’s complete credit card number on their copies of receipts and if the establishment has a dishonest employee, he or she could use the card number to buy things.

“Shopping on the Internet and things like that make it so easy,” he said.

Harker said criminals also will break into people’s vehicles to steal personal information. He said if a woman leaves a purse inside a vehicle, a criminal may break in and take it.

“Just always be vigilant,” Harker said. “Try not to keep any personal information in your vehicle.”

He also said people are required to have their insurance cards inside their vehicles at all times, but criminals could use that card to get someone’s personal information.

“There’s a lot of information on that card,” he said. “If (the criminal) is halfway savvy, he can probably call the insurance company and get the information he needs.”

Harker said criminals also obtain individuals’ personal information through the mail. Criminals will get people’s mail out of mailboxes and gather the information they need. Harker suggests people rent secure post office boxes to receive their mail. People should always shred documents when done with them, including credit card applications because criminals could get it and open up a credit card account in someone else’s name, he added.

Wilson said methamphetamine users are largely responsible for perpetrating identity theft crimes due to the rising cost of meth.

“The cost of meth has now skyrocketed,” he said.

Harker said the elderly “seem more vulnerable” to identity theft than other individuals, but many people are affected by the crime.

“It affects everybody and it even affects those of us who should know better,” Wilson said. “It crosses the entire socioeconomic line in the county.”

Harker said Bremerton’s identity theft numbers have decreased because the criminals in the area aren’t as likely to steal people’s identities as those in larger, more urban areas.

“Our criminals probably aren’t as smart as some of the ones you’d find in say Seattle or on the I-5 corridor,” he said.

If someone is a victim of identity theft, he or she should contact the local police department and the Federal Trade Commission.

“I think the best thing is to try and be vigilant,” Harker said. “Check your bank account often and don’t throw receipts away. If you’re going to use a debit card or write a check, try to make sure it’s going to be safe to whoever you’re giving it to.”

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