Police warn of identity theft, fraud

By: Maddie Forshee | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published January 22, 2018

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WEST BLOOMFIELD/ORCHARD LAKE/KEEGO HARBOR — Identity theft can happen to anyone, anywhere, and while no one is immune from having their personal information compromised, local police say there are ways to protect that information. 

The West Bloomfield Police Department took 281 reports of identity theft in 2017, along with 275 reports of other types of fraud, said Deputy Chief Curt Lawson.

“Like any other community in Michigan, we’re affected by identity theft and fraud,” he said. “What sets us apart a little bit is that we have the resources to investigate identity thefts. When we see there’s a possible suspect, we pursue that.” 

Lawson said that the Police Department tries to go the extra mile when it comes to investigating identity theft and other types of fraud, as those crimes continue to increase every year. 

Tax fraud is common at the start of the year, said Lawson. People will file false tax returns using someone else’s name and information, and they have the tax refund sent to the fraudster’s address. 

Unemployment benefit fraud is another type of fraud that Lawson said he’s been seeing rise in Michigan. 

“We’ve had people here at the department who get their identity stolen,” he said. “It can happen to anybody.” 

An undercover West Bloomfield police sergeant executed a search warrant in a case about identity theft, and among many fake IDs he found his own name. 

And though he hasn’t seen it much in West Bloomfield, Lawson said people should be warned about skimmers, which are devices affixed to ATMs and other points of transaction that can provide crooks with access to people’s accounts. 

Detective Bobby Barnes, from the Keego Harbor Police Department, said that identity theft is a problem there too. He said he sees a lot of people put themselves at risk by carrying around their Social Security card. 

“Don’t carry as much documentation,” he said. “Identity thefts are usually from stolen items like a wallet or pocketbook.” 

Orchard Lake Police Chief Joe George said that identity theft happens everywhere and that Orchard Lake is no exception. 

“We do have our cases of identity theft, and everybody does,” said George. “I’ve been compromised myself. It’s difficult.” 

George said that people should always be careful about the information that they give out, especially online or over the phone. 

Identity theft can happen in many different ways: data breaches, skimmers, malware — which is a computer program designed to disrupt the normal functioning of a victim’s computer — mail theft and even by “dumpster diving,” which involves going through people’s trash. Stolen identities can be used to open new bank accounts, to drain existing accounts, or to commit tax fraud, medical insurance fraud or Social Security fraud.

Lawson recommends that residents keep an eye on their credit reports, at least yearly. There are companies that will monitor people’s credit for them monthly for a fee. 

Victims of identity theft should report the incident to their local police department and to the Federal Trade Commission. It’s more for documentation, said Lawson, but it can help when dealing with credit card companies. 

Lawson said people should make sure that all computers have firewalls and virus protection, and that users have complex passwords on all accounts they use. 

Barnes said he uses a banking app that notifies him of all purchases as soon as they’re made. He also said people should shred all documents before throwing them away, because thieves can steal and use that information. 

“Never give out your information over the phone,” said Barnes. “The IRS … will always mail something to you. If it sounds too good to be true, it is.”

For more information about identity theft, visit www.identitytheft.gov.