With the constant use of smartphones, identity theft is easier than ever, officials at the Denton County Sheriff’s Office said.
Investigator Roger McAfee has been with the sheriff’s office off and on for roughly 28 years. For the past six years, McAfee said, he has worked in the criminal investigations division, spending most of his time on the phone working cases involving stolen identities and credit card fraud.
“Do you like sitting on the phone with your cable company?” he asked during an interview in his office Friday afternoon. “That’s pretty much what I do on these types of cases all day — I am literally on the phone with a cable network because someone signed up using another person’s identity.”
McAfee warned of using a smartphone all the time to go on the Internet, because there is no way to guarantee personal information is protected in a public setting. The same, he said, goes for logging on a hotel network. Home systems should have a good anti-virus program and firewall system.
The number of identity theft cases filed within the past year across the United States is “astronomical,” officials with the sheriff’s office said.
“The trouble these days is everyone uses a phone to go online and that is really what makes it harder for us to track down the bad guy,” McAfee said. “A cell tower has thousands of people using it, and you are not sure who to trace the IP address to, where as a computer from home is trackable.”
From the first of this year through Friday, Denton County has filed 152 fraud cases and 11 forgery cases, compared to 218 fraud cases and 17 forgery cases last year. McAfee said cases are not broken down into separate categories, so fraud calls include identity theft and credit card abuse.
“The two really go hand in hand,” he said. “Credit card/debit cards are part of your identity.”
Stolen credit card numbers and applying for a loan in another person’s name, officials said, are the most common sources of identity theft trending lately.
Loan scams are becoming increasingly popular, and officials said when someone calls and says they are calling to collect a debt, don’t just give them personal information.
“They [fraudulent creditors] will call you in disguises of law firms, police officers ... it’s a way to force you into paying it [the so-called balance] and a lot of people give in and just pay,” McAfee said.
McAfee said the first thing every victim asks him is, “Where did they get my information?”
Officials said to think about all the places information is housed, such as employer, school, apartment and even the doctor’s office.
“It just takes one person to hack in and get that information — it’s kind of scary,” McAfee said.
In order to help prevent theft, McAfee recommends that people shred everything with their name on it.
People should be wary of giving out their Social Security numbers and should not carry their Social Security cards around, he said. They should also remove all non-pertinent information from checks and monitor their credit/debit cards.
“I don’t see it [the case load] getting any better, although people don’t realize these types of crimes are a state jail felony here in Texas,” McAfee said.
The best way for people to avoid becoming victims, he said, is to be careful who has access to their personal information.
As for working to track down these hard-to-find criminals?
“It’s like turning a rock until you find that slug,” he said. “You just keep turning and turning.”
MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.