Identity thefts, scams impact Daniel Island residents
Between May 15 and May 24, there were three instances of identity theft and larceny by false pretense against Daniel Island residents. Crimes of this nature, including scams, are common happenings on the island, regularly appearing in the police reports every week.
And, as Charleston Police Detective James Jackson puts it, the island’s experience isn’t unique.
“I haven’t seen a demographic and age group, you name it, that I can single out and say ‘that’s who these people are looking for,’” Jackson said. “I don’t think they really care about it.”
There’s no shortage of ways that scammers can obtain someone’s capital. One trend on Daniel Island is a secret or mystery shopper racket. Someone will be given a bogus check by an unknown party, which they deposit. After putting the check in their bank, the victim is told to spend money on gift cards and send pictures of the codes to the scammer.
The checks sometimes even clear with the bank at first, but in a short amount of time, the money will bounce, leaving the victim with no way to recoup their lost cash.
“If anyone ever asks you to deposit a check and then wire or send money in any way, you can bet it’s a scam,” Emma Fletcher advised when writing on the topic for the Federal Trade Commission.
“Sometimes they’ll play a game of ‘we don’t want money right now, we’ll get it later, and all this other stuff,’ but ultimately, it comes right back to it,” said Jackson. “They may not get it today, but they’re going to call you back a few days later and say ‘ok, now we want money.’”
Another popular scam, known as a business email compromise, occurs when an offender poses as a supervisor or higher-up at a business and contacts someone lower on the office food chain. Usually, they tell victims that they need gift cards, or money of any sort, and inform them that it’s an urgent purchase.
This happened to one island resident on May 24. According to the police incident report, the victim was contacted by an individual claiming to be the president of her company. The ersatz official requested $500 worth of gift cards, to which the victim complied. After they sent pictures of the card numbers, they became suspicious enough to contact the president by phone. By the time the two realized what had happened, the gift card numbers had been used, said the police report.
Both the business email compromise and the secret shopper scam seem different, but an individual can protect themselves in similar ways for any type of deception attempt.
“The key to it is if they want money right now or any type of payment, it’s a scam. It’s a scam, it’s a scam,” said Detective Jackson.
Sometimes, individuals will receive calls from scammers claiming to be law enforcement or IRS officials. Jackson assured residents that no one from the Internal Revenue Service or any law enforcement agencies will call someone to tell them that they owe money.
If there’s any question about someone’s credentials, a surefire way to assure that someone is from a government agency or business is to hang up the phone and call them back. If the number goes to the correct business, then it could be real. If it doesn’t, then it was likely a scam.
Identity theft, while similar to a scam, is much more difficult to undo and solve.
“A true identity theft is using one’s personal information, as in name, date of birth, social security number, address, driver’s license number, anything that is owned by nobody else but you,” said the detective. “Any of that stuff used to obtain goods, services, or financial services is considered by state statute (to be) identity theft.”
Two cases of identity theft were reported on Daniel Island just days apart last month. On May 15, a person in the area received an alert saying that they had been the subject of an Equifax credit inquiry with Verizon. Upon contacting both companies, the individual was advised that a fraudulent inquiry had occurred.
Three days later, on May 18, another person fell victim to identity fraud. A Verizon account, an AT&T account, and a Kohls credit card were opened in this individual’s name with their social security number. The victim had bills for over $3,600 from the Verizon account.
Identity theft is a notoriously difficult crime to fix. Data breaches are often the source of sensitive information leaking to scammers, according to Jackson.
“We get a very small sample size of what had actually happened, just because we’re little old Charleston versus a nationwide epidemic,” the detective said about pursuing the crime. “We get a very small piece of the puzzle. It’s very difficult to identify and figure out where this information came from, how it was obtained, and identifying the perpetrators.”
Often times, once personal information is obtained, an offender will use it to purchase cell phones. Victims sometimes don’t realize that their identity has been stolen until they receive a bill from a major cell phone provider for a purchase they didn’t make.
“Cell phones are cheaper here than they are in other countries,” Jackson explained. “Literally, they get the cell phones and through the black market, they (sell them in) other places in the world where cell phones are more expensive.”
Of course, there are plenty of ways that someone’s personal information can be used against them and since it’s difficult to know when sensitive data has been obtained, there’s one major way to determine when an identity theft has occurred.
“I advise everybody to get a credit report every year,” Jackson said. The detective added that some major consumer reporting agencies provide one free credit report per year, meaning an individual can obtain several credit reports every year.
The elderly are also advised to freeze their credit, especially if they are not making any purchases that will affect it.
“It’s not going to hurt anything for you to do that, but you don’t want to do that all the time because it then it does negatively affect your credit,” Jackson commented. “Your older population is kind of set in their income, their ways.”
TOP 5 TYPES OF IDENTITY THEFT:
Credit card fraud(new accounts) - 40.5%
Miscellaneous identity theft - 27.1%
Tax fraud - 12.0%
Mobile phone (new accounts) - 10.3%
Credit card fraud (existing accounts) - 10.0%
SOURCE: INSURANCE INFORMATION INSTITUTE
How can you protect yourself from identity theft?
Thieves have become more sophisticated over the years and the chances of someone stealing your identity are increasing. Here are some tips from FineMark Bank of Daniel Island on how to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft:
1. When making a store or restaurant purchase, do not let your credit card out of your sight.
2. Don’t carry your birth certificate or Social Security card in your wallet.
3. Call your credit card company immediately if your statement does not show up on time. For added security, have a locked mailbox installed to avoid mail theft.
4. Be sure to use drive-thru ATMs and ATMs inside stores or in well-lit, well-trafficked areas.
5. Never let anyone see you type in your personal identification number and do not write it on your ATM card.
6. Shred pre-approved loan and credit card applications.
7. Check your bank statements as soon as you receive them.
8. Order your credit report at least once a year to check for fraudulent activity.
9. Do not give out your Social Security, credit card or bank account number to anyone who calls you.
If you are concerned about a potential scam or if your wallet is lost or stolen, do not wait. Call the police, your credit card company, your bank, and the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and Trans Union). Ask each credit bureau to place a fraud alert on your credit report. This will alert creditors that your financial information may be compromised. If you have questions about these tips, contact the Daniel Island FineMark branch at (843) 998-6400.