by Keith Beebe
SUGAR GROVEâ€”Are you comfortable sharing your credit or debit card information with a waiter, sales clerk or an Internet site? If so, you might want to rethink your approach to financial privacy.
After a busy 2009 in which there were 47 cases involving identity theft in Sugar Grove, 15 incidents have already been reported in the village since the beginning of this year. And in a society where steady employment and solid wages are hard to come by, the identity theft statistic is likely to keep increasing as it becomes easier to attain an individualâ€™s personal information.
â€œAs the economy has gone bad, weâ€™re seeing a lot more identity theft-type cases (in the area),â€ Sugar Grove Police Department investigator John Sizer said. â€œWe had a case where a mother stole the identity of her twin boys who were in college. Sheâ€™d lost her job and was desperate to keep them in school, so she set up credit card accounts in their names and essentially ruined their credit.â€
Identity theft, which occurs when someone assumes another personâ€™s identity through the exploitation of the victimâ€™s Social Security number or credit-related information, has become more and more of a nationwide problem over the last few yearsâ€”mainly because so many people in this country do the bulk of their financial transactions through credit and debit cards.
Sizer said credit card fraud is the most common identity-theft-related occurrence in the Sugar Grove area. In fact, many of the incidents happen to people whose credit card information has been compromised without them actually losing possession of the card.
â€œTypically, someone has cloned the information on the credit card and is selling the information to others,â€ Sizer said. â€œAbout 43 percent of identity theft crimes are done through finding personal information in the garbage. Just 11 percent are done through the computer.â€
Some cases of identity theft in the area were the result of credit card skimming. One particular instance of skimming involved an Aurora restaurant employee who was stealing card information while on the job.
Despite the number of ways someone can steal personal information, local residents can reduce the risk of falling victim to identity theft by shredding old financial documents and minimizing credit card activity on the Internet.
Anyone who suspects their personal information has been compromised should call local police immediately.
Identity theft is a state felony offense, but the charge can be brought up to the federal level if the offense is severe enough.