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Don't become a victim

June 10, 2006|By Kelly Strodl

Did you know some thieves go through your mailbox to steal personal information?

When Newport Beach Police Det. Dave White asked the residents at the Oasis Senior Center in Corona del Mar that question, the wide eyes he saw all over the room indicated that they didn't.

"With a lot of these people, they don't realize what is going on until they become a victim," he said. "Unfortunately, we are only kind of scratching the surface."

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If you haven't been a victim of identity theft or know someone close to you who has, you are among the lucky minority, White said.

White visited the senior center to discuss the growing problem of identity theft.

As part of the economic crimes unit of the Newport Beach Police Department, White focuses on high-tech crimes, which include e-mail "phishing" scams. Phishing is a scam in which the thief sends an e-mail that appears to come from a legitimate business and asks for personal information such as a password or a Social Security number.

"Suspects send out a mass e-mailing, and it will hit hundreds of thousands of people nationwide," White said. "They will go to a website, cut and paste, build something that looks the same, and go and ask you to provide some personal information to update your account."

Other e-mail scams include the Nigerian letter ? which tells a phony story about a promised fortune if you give the sender money ? investment fraud, parcel courier e-mail schemes and Internet extortion. The most dangerous threats for seniors, though, come in more traditional forms, White said.

"They don't pay as many bills online, so they write personal checks," White said. "Thieves are stealing bills out of the mailbox and using that information to compromise their accounts."

In the next few years, White said he anticipates checks becoming obsolete as newer, more secure technology arrives. For now, the safest way to pay your bills is to use the Internet, White said.

"After all of its problems, it is still the best bet," he said. "I would swear by Internet bill-pay."

The other institution White swears by is the Orange County Teachers Federal Credit Union.

"They're phenomenal," White said.

The credit union educates its members and staff on how to stay alert and be aware of signs indicating fraudulent banking or business.

"The things we usually recommend they do is monitor their statements regularly," said Nancy Powers, vice president of information services and risk. "It seems simple but usually only about 30% do it."

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