In early 2003, the Sheriff's Office began working with police chiefs from the major cities in Washington County to create a multi-agency team called the Fraud and Identity Theft Enforcement (FITE) Team. Due in large part to the efforts of that team, identity theft and fraud has been greatly reduced in our county.
In March of 2013, the Sheriff and participating police agencies decided that due to the economy and tight budgets, it made sense to return detectives from the interagency team office to their home agencies. Now, the Washington County Sheriff's Office maintains a core group of detectives who work these crimes every day. They plan to continue the good work started back in 2003 by meeting on a regular basis with fraud investigators from local agencies to share information about suspects, investigations and current crime trends.
If you are a victim of Fraud or Identity Theft, it is important that you take the proper action immediately to avoid further losses.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft occurs when a criminal uses your account or personal information, such as your birth date, address, driver's license number or social security number to secure loans, credit cards, checks or merchandise. Identity theft often involves fraudulent use of a credit card, check forgery, and many other scams.
How Do Thieves Get My Information?
Mail Theft – While mail theft has decreased in Washington County, it is still occurring. Having a locking mail box and using the post office boxes to mail your bills will help you protect your information.
Phishing – Phishing is when a crook calls or contacts you via e-mail under the guise that they are from your bank, credit card company or other business, often times "advising" you your account may have been compromised. The identity thief will try to get information like PIN numbers, birthdates, and social security numbers. A legitimate business will not call or e-mail you looking for these things. If you have doubts about the validity of these calls and e-mails do not give your information and contact the business directly.
Skimmers – Skimming involves a device that will capture your debit or credit card information by running the magnetic strip through a device similar to the readers used on cash registers. The skimmer then uses your information to drain your account or make counterfeit credit cards. You can protect yourself by paying with cash, and when you do use your card keep it in sight at all times.
Business Compromise – On occasion, businesses hire people who decide to partake in identity theft. There have been cases where employees of companies have stolen customer information and used it for financial gain. Help protect yourself by finding out if you have been victimized and run a credit check.
How Can I Protect Myself?
The adage "if it looks too good to be true, it probably is" holds true to this day. Be leery of Internet transactions with people who are not local and won't meet you in person, or where someone is offering to pay you a large sum to do almost no work. Ask yourself if the offer makes sense or if it seems too easy. If you are offered money from a foreign country for investments, lotteries or online sales avoid them.
Review your Credit Report Annually. According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, you have a right to obtain a free credit report once every 12 months from each of the three national credit reporting bureaus - Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. However, the free reports can only be obtained through a single authorized website: AnnualCreditReport.com. Requests can be made from all three agencies at one time, but if you wish to distribute the free credit reports throughout the year, you may want to spread them out over several months. Other websites offer "free" credit reports, but they may have a catch. For instance, they may allow free reports for an introductory period of time, but soon begin charging your credit card for ongoing service.
How Do I Report Identity Theft?
First you need to contact the police department where the crime occurred. This could mean making reports to multiple police agencies. If your mail was stolen, then your credit cards were used in several places, you would need to make a report to the police where you live, and then in each jurisdiction the card was used. If you live in Washington County or the crime occurred here you can call non-emergency dispatch at (503) 629 -0111.