An elderly Manteca gentleman wanted to hire someone to clean his house.
Instead of going through an established house cleaning service he went to a nearby market and asked people if they wanted to make $20 cleaning his home.
Not only did he get his home cleaned up but he got an unexpected bonus — the woman he hired cleaned out his bank account.
The man was a victim of identity theft, arguably the crime Manteca residents are most likely to become a victim of according to Manteca Police Detective Steve Schluer.
Schluer spoke about the growing problem of ID theft and steps people can take to reduce their exposure during Thursday’s Manteca Noon Rotary meeting at Isadore’s.
The police investigation produced 107 other stolen identifies in the home of the woman who was eventually convicted. Of those, 50 were from Manteca.
The ID thief got a year in county jail but thanks to state prison realignment and the shifting of inmates to the local level, she will only serve six months. That means she could be plying her craft later this month.
Even if she doesn’t go back to a life of crime there is a steady stream of criminals working diligently to steal your identity and your money without ever having to confront you or break into your home or car. And that doesn’t include scammers working emails, the Internet, phones, and old-fashioned one-on-one pigeon drops to get your money.
Schluer noted one Del Webb couple lost over $30,000 to a scammer. One local bank manager indicated that in the past quarter they stopped $40,000 in customers loses by being able to intervene and convince targeted victims that they were being conned.
And unlike the criminal breaking into your car and stealing valuables you may have left in plain view, ID thieves can extract thousands of dollars from victims and will often sell key personal data to multiple parties.
There are a variety of ways criminals can get your ID: tricking you out of it via email, stealing mail from your mailbox or a neighborhood cluster box, using sophisticated bugs equipped with miniature cameras to record credit card swipes at places such as ATMs and gas pumps, and wallet or purse theft.
But the No 1 source of personal information for identity thieves is decidedly low tech.
“Dumpster divers are responsible for much (of the problem),” Schluer said. “And it’s not the dumpster behind stores but your home Toters,”
Schluer said that makes the city’s semi-annual free shredding of sensitive personal documents an effective deterrent against becoming a crime victim. He also said buying a basic document shredder would also do the trick.
Schluer and other officers offer tips on how to avoid some high tech ID theft operations. Among them are:
• It is wise when you are punching in pin numbers to shield your fingers working the key pad with your other hand in the event there is a miniature reader recording card swipes and key punches.
• Physically balance your checkbook each month instead of simply checking your balance on line.
• Never give your Social Security number to anyone. Firms that you have accounts with such as credit card companies already have that information and will ask you for the last four numbers.
• Don’t carry your Social Security card in your purse or in your wallet. If you do need it for a specific appointment take it with you for that and then take it out of your wallet or purse afterwards and put it in a safe place at your home.
As for protecting against scams, Schluer said, “If it’s too good to be true it is. Not probably it is, but it is.”
Schluer noted one of the most comprehensive resources for dealing with identity theft once it has occurred is available in PDF form at the Federal Trade Commission website at ftc.gov/idtheft. It consists of 56 pages. Not only does it give you a step-by-step of how to report fraud and to deal with financial institutions and credit card companies but it also contains form letters that are needed.