On average, one person has his or her identity stolen every day in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, and this year seems to be on equal pace, police statistics show.
Through the first part of the year, both Costa Mesa and Newport Beach police were handling more than 150 identity theft cases, a total that has for the last few years been consistently on the rise.
“More than ever, the information explosion, aided by an era of easy credit, has led to the expansion of a crime that feeds on the inability of consumers to control who has access to sensitive information and how it is safeguarded,” said Newport Beach detective Dave White, an expert in identity theft.
Newport-Mesa statistics parallel a national trend of more and more people becoming victims of identity theft.
According to a 2006 study by Gartner Inc, an international technology research and advisory firm, nearly 29 people became victims of identity theft every minute in the country, or almost one every two seconds. The number was a substantial leap from a Federal Trade Commission study three years earlier.
The total number of identity theft victims in Costa Mesa and Newport Beach jumped more than 25% from 2005 to 2007. Each city had more than 400 victims last year.
Police say there are primarily three forms of identity theft: true name fraud, account takeover fraud and criminal identity theft. Criminal identity theft, in which a crook provides another individual’s personal information to police, is the least common, authorities said.
In the so-called “true name fraud,” the thief uses a consumer’s personal information to open up new accounts in their name, take over accounts, or gain access to someone’s account and make fraudulent charges.
These are the easiest and most common, detectives said.
“These forms of identity theft are easy to commit and often with complete anonymity,” White said.
Costa Mesa recorded 311 cases of identity theft in 2005, and 404 in 2007. Newport Beach police do not keep track of identity thefts individually, instead grouping them into a “fraud” category. Identity thefts make up about 85% of their cases, officials said.
In 2003, Newport Beach had 240 fraud cases. In 2007, it was nearly double that, up to 478.
Never carry your Social Security card with you.
Never provide personal information unless you initiated the call or can confirm the identity of the person on the other end of the phone.
Be careful what you throw away. Shred personal documents containing sensitive information that others could use.
Check your credit card statements thoroughly for unusual charges.
If you’re listed in the phone book, consider leaving your address out. Leave off titles such as “doctor” or “attorney” or other signs announcing apparent affluence.
Report lost or stolen credit cards immediately. Call the company if your bill or new card has not arrived on time.
Never leave transaction receipts behind.
JOSEPH SERNA may be reached at (714) 966-4619 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.