You don’t need to convince Aaron Montoya to be super vigilant with his personal information.
The Manteca Police detective during the last two years has handled three major identity theft investigations that collectively had more than 1,000 victims.
And a large chunk of those involve mail theft including the brazen pilfering of rural mail boxes south of Manteca in February when an evacuation advisory was in place after a levee was temporarily breeched along the San Joaquin River.
“The 15 years I worked graveyard patrol my duty was to look after your house when you were asleep,” Montoya told Manteca Rotarians during their meeting Thursday at Ernie’s Rendezvous Room.
Now his mission is to combat the rising tide of ID theft and fraud that has grown more evasive and sophisticated in the Internet Age.
Two of his three biggest cases so far — one with 250 victims and another with 441 victims — have been resolved from the standpoint of the criminal investigation. The other with anywhere between 300 and 400 victims is ongoing.
He makes it a point to contact all victims so they are aware that their personal information has been compromised and things that belong to them are returned. Falling in that category were two safe deposit keys a mother mailed to her daughter that was pilfered as part of a mail theft.
And thieves don’t always have to create fake IDs. In one case a criminal stole a bank ATM card that the accountholder was unaware was being sent to them. In such a case the thief will try it out at a gas station pump given there are typically no surveillance cameras. All they need to do is to guess the right ZIP code. Once they find out it works, they use it at ATMs to withdraw money. In one instance the thieves withdrew $2,000 over the course of a week and a half.
Montoya noted mailboxes are popular targets. They can be broken into often in less than a minute. While many may believe it happens just at night, mailbox break ins happen in broad daylight. Making matters worse are some criminals have acquired the expertise allowing them to fashion keys they then use to steal mail.
“They can take your mail without you even realizing they’ve gotten into your mailbox,” the detective said.
And while the Postal Service is working to come up with more secure cluster boxes, Montoya indicated thieves are likely to eventually compromise them as well.
Montoya has a cluster mailbox in front of his home. But instead of using the mail drop on the cluster box he will drive it to the post office unless he knows the postal carrier will be coming by within the hour.
He noted victims often ask why the federal government isn’t investigating their mail theft.
“They are right that it is a federal crime but there aren’t enough resources (at the federal level) to handle the volume of cases,” Montoya said.
And while postal inspectors will cooperate with local authorities, the Post Office’s law enforcement division concentrates on breaking up organized crime rings in a bid to nail the bigger operators that do the most damage.
Montoya said thieves are primarily after three basic things: Driver licenses, Social Security numbers and checks or credit cards.
What will happen often is addicts will steal mail from mailboxes or even from Toters and use it by the bag full to score drugs or secure small amounts of money.
Stolen mail doesn’t have to yield Social Security numbers or actual credit cards and checks to be valuable for an ID thief. They can glean tidbits of information that helps them put together a puzzle, so to speak, to create a fake ID from something even as innocuous as a mailing label.
And if you are using checks still, Montoya said under no circumstances place your driver’s license or Social Security number on them. Having your phone number on them, however, allows store personnel that might be suspicious to double check to the validity of the check. It also allows law enforcement a quick way to contact you should they come across your checks during an investigation.
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