|By Courtney Llewellyn|
Reminder Assistant Editor
WILBRAHAM The Police Department in Wilbraham tries to protect the town's residents as fully as they can, which is why it has recently started handing out identity theft information, courtesy of Police Chief Allen M. Stratton.
With holiday shopping in full swing, identity theft is an even more prevalent threat.
"Crowded stores with rushed people and various distractions and online purchases made via unsecure Web sites add to the risk of identity theft during the holiday season," Detective Craig Tuer, an expert on identity theft, said.
According to LegalShield.org, identity theft has become America's fastest growing crime. More than 27 million people have been victimized over the past five years. Cleaning up the mess after the theft of your identity can cost thousands of dollars and serious damage to your good credit.
"We recently put a packet together to answer basic questions about identity theft," Capt. Roger Tucker of the WPD explained. "Identity theft is absolutely an issue in Wilbraham as well as internationally."
The nine-page packet outlines what a person should do if it's believed he or she is a victim of identity theft as well as ways to avoid theft from occurring.
If a person believes he or she is a victim, some of the first steps taken should include placing a fraud alert on credit reports and placing a security freeze on your credit reports. Another necessary step is to file a police report.
"Banks will not consider it [an identity theft] a serious threat unless it's reported to the police first," Tucker said.
"Contact the police department as soon as possible when you think your identity has been stolen," he continued. "The longer you wait the worse it can be. It could take months or years to sort out the financial mess."
Security freezes began on Nov. 1, according to Tucker. A security freeze means a person's file cannot be shared with potential creditors. A security freeze can help prevent identity theft.
The information packet includes forms a person can send the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Trans Union and Experian) in the event that a security freeze is needed.
How does one become a victim of this crime? Thieves steal mail, rummage through trash and use personal information shared on the Internet, among various other ways.
The packet provided by the Wilbraham Police Department lists ways to prevent this from happening. Preventative steps include reviewing credit reports from all three major credit bureaus at least once a year, leaving your Social Security card in a safe place and not carrying it with you, destroying offers of credit received in the mail that you don't respond to and notifying your credit card company if you plan to travel out of state.
Tucker said there have been 17 reports of identity theft in Wilbraham during the past 10 months. "Because it's a relatively 'new' crime, more reports are being filed," he said. "People are more aware of it now, but people have been taking advantage of other people for years."
He added there have been instances in Wilbraham where people have taken checks out of mailboxes to steal personal information. He suggested that when mailing bill payments and other personal information to use a post office mailbox or other secure mailing location to prevent thefts like that from occurring.
"We put a lot of information out about ourselves everyday," Tucker said. "We need to make ourselves secure."
When the WPD is called to file a report of stolen identity, they collect the information and if the crime is traceable -- like using someone else's credit card to pay a bill -- the department can track and find the thief. The information packet is given to the victim as well.
"We give out the packet because it serves as defense for yourself," Tucker stated.
The identity theft information packets are available at the police department headquarters at 16 Main St. in Wilbraham.
For more information on identity theft, visit the Federal Trade Commission's Web site at www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/.