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Beware of identity thieves

New technology makes it easier than ever to communicate with friends, family and business associates, but unfortunately, the information sharing doesn’t always end where we want it to, officials with the Denton County Sheriff’s Office cautioned recently.

In too many cases, officials said, criminals are taking advantage of our growing comfort level with electronic innovations. For example, the popularity of smartphones is making identity theft easier than ever, Investigator Roger McAfee told us.

McAfee should know what he’s talking about. He’s been with the Sheriff’s Office off and on for roughly 28 years, and for the past six years, 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.

The two go hand in hand, McAfee told us — credit card/debit cards are part of our identities.

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.

McAfee also recommends that people shred everything with their name on it. The best way to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft, McAfee advised, is to be careful who has access to our personal information.

We’ve all heard that before, but as we embrace new technology, we may forget to be as careful as we should.

Someone is forgetting — officials say the number of identity theft cases filed within the past year across the United States is “astronomical.”

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 that when someone contacts us and says he is calling to collect a debt, refuse to give out personal information.

McAfee said fraudulent creditors often call in the guise of law firms and even police officers, trying to force their victims to pay a nonexistent fine or penalty, and many people give in and agree to pay.

The growing use of phones to access the Internet also makes it tougher to track down these bad guys, McAfee said, because a cell tower has thousands of people using it and investigators can’t always be sure how to trace a device’s Internet identifier address.

As technology becomes more sophisticated, consumers need to realize that some of the old rules still apply, and one of them is not to trust anyone we don’t know.

We follow that rule when strangers come to the door, and we should always be just as careful when we go online.

Like we said, you’ve probably heard the warning before, but in our view, it’s a message that bears repeating.