Identity theft rising in Columbia

Monday, February 23, 2009 | 6:04 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Last year’s increase in larceny in Columbia may be because in small part of a rise in identity theft.

Larceny increased 33.2 percent from 2007 to 2008, according to statistics released recently by the Columbia Police Department.

Identity theft and larceny are now similarly defined under Missouri’s revised Stealing Statute. The change allows for a person to be arrested or prosecuted for possessing or attempting to use fraudulent identification for identity theft.

Identity thieves use several methods to steal someone’s identity, but the most common way is by stealing documents from an acquaintance.  

“Typically in these cases, the victims and the defendants know each other,” said Crime Prevention Officer Jessie Haden of the Columbia Police Department.  Haden lists the home as the No. 1 place that identity theft occurs.

That was the case with 34-year-old Kathryn Jones.

In early February, Jones discovered that a woman she considered her best friend had stolen $1,000 from Jones’ account.

The friend, who had been in Jones’ home, stole checks in random order from Jones’ checkbook so Jones wouldn’t notice right away that they were missing. She then forged Jones’ signature on the checks at local stores such as Gerbes and Kroger. She used the checks from mid-November until Jones discovered the transactions after receiving her bank statement in February.

“She basically had a good Thanksgiving and a good Christmas off of me,” Jones said.

The violation of trust hit Jones hard. “I was crying the whole time because I trusted her,” Jones said. “I never thought she would do this to me.”

Jones is reluctantly pressing charges against her former “best friend.”

In cases like these, one person’s expectations about other people’s moral parameters come into play, Haden said. Imagining the worst can be a form of self-defense: “Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and then remove your conscience,” she said.

Access plays an important role in thieves’ success: “People are not as cautious as they should be. Where I see that most is with physical documents,” Haden said.  

That’s especially true among people ages 18 to 39, who seem especially vulnerable to the myths about identity theft:

  • it’s a stranger-on-stranger crime
  • being computer-savvy gives a person protection
  • perpetrators mainly target older people

Outside of the home or businesses, a common target for identity thieves are vehicles, where people often leave documents.

Haden recalled a case where a thief stole a debit card from a vehicle and used it immediately to buy gas. The thief then invited friends to fill up for free at the victim’s expense.

“It basically boils down to things you can do to protect yourself, and that starts at home,” said Sgt. Lloyd Simons of the department’s Community Services Unit.  

The unit provides detailed information about identity theft and fraud prevention tips.

But Jones offers one of her own: “The moral of the story … don’t trust anybody, not even your friends.”

 

I wish Ms. Jones had known about the information contained on these two websites, http://www.prepaidlegal.com/info/bking62 and http://www.greatjobtoption.com/brandonking. It would have saved her a lot of trouble. I know from personal experience

 

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