GPD warns: ID theft growing

GILROY
– When Elbi Saze interviewed for a job as a Certified Nurses
Assistant at Saint Louise Regional Hospital three weeks ago, she
didn’t think she had anything to hide. Little did she know the
Gilroy Police Department was holding a $5,000 arrest warrant in her
name.
GILROY – When Elbi Saze interviewed for a job as a Certified Nurses Assistant at Saint Louise Regional Hospital three weeks ago, she didn’t think she had anything to hide. Little did she know the Gilroy Police Department was holding a $5,000 arrest warrant in her name.

Saze, who lives in Hollister with her husband Eddie, couldn’t believe there was a warrant for her arrest. Saze has never been in trouble with the law – something she takes pride in – and she was being told she couldn’t be hired for a job she’d worked years to secure because she didn’t show up for a court date she never knew about for a crime she didn’t commit.

Like an increasing amount of South County residents and people nationwide, Saze is a victim of identity theft.

“This is my career, and I was really looking forward to this new job,” Saze said. “I was in shock when they told me about the warrant coming up on my background check. I consider myself a responsible person. Now I know what they’re talking about when they say this can happen to anyone.”

Saze became a victim of identity theft after her purse was stolen from the front seat of her car in the Wal-Mart parking lot in June 2001 as she was loading groceries in the trunk. Saze reported the theft to the police department the next day, and she replaced her license shortly after.

She hadn’t thought much about the incident until three weeks ago, when she found out her old license had been used as a false identity by a woman ticketed for purchasing alcohol for minors in Gilroy – a misdemeanor offense. The woman had not shown up at her court date, and a $5,000 warrant was issued for Saze’s arrest.

Now all Saze can do is sit and wait for the police department and courts to clear the pile of red tape required to nullify a warrant. She has been hired by Saint Louise, but cannot start working until her name is cleared.

“(The police department) told me they would call me back this week, but I haven’t heard yet,” Saze said Thursday evening. “This is so frustrating.”

And according to members of the Gilroy Police Department, more and more South County residents likely will be feeling the frustration of identity theft in the future.

With the rise of the Internet, instant credit and criminals with a better understanding of technology, ID theft is quickly becoming one of the most popular crimes, according to Phylis Ward, the GPD’s crime analyst who is working on a study to track the rise in Gilroy’s ID theft.

“When you have a purse or wallet stolen, you think it’s for the money,” Ward said. “But what they really want is your ID so they can use it for larger crimes.”

While the GPD does not keep hard data for ID theft, Ward says she has noticed the amount of purses, wallets and paperwork stolen during auto burglaries increase sharply during the last year – meaning more thieves are targeting personal information instead of just car stereos. In October, more victims of auto burglaries in the city reported documents were stolen than car stereos – the first time this has happened, Ward said.

“It seems like we are always working on cases of ID theft now,” said Detective John Marfia of the GPD. “It’s quickly becoming the most popular crime. The system makes it very easy.”

The system Marfia is talking about is the increasing ease in which a person can apply for and receive a credit card. Once a criminal has obtained a person’s personal information – such social security numbers, account numbers, telephone numbers and addresses, it is easy to order a credit card online or over the phone. This information is obtained in various ways, from dumpster diving to burglary to phone and Internet fraud, and affects more people than just the direct victims, Marfia said.

“A person will establish a line of credit in your name, or if you already have credit, will change the billing address to his home so you don’t notice your bill until it’s too late,” Marfia said. “The credit card companies often times end up paying for this, and that means we all end up paying the bill.”

Doing simple things such as shredding documents with secure information, staying up with billing cycles and not leaving documents, a purse or wallet within sight in a parked car can help prevent ID theft. But as Saze learned, it’s not always as easy as it sounds.

“I think I did everything right, but sometimes you never know what people will do,” said Saze, who is still waiting to work her first day at Saint Louise. “I guess it could be worse. I might not have gotten hired.”

Identity Theft Prevention

• Make a list of all credit card account numbers and bank account numbers with a customer service phone number and keep it in a safe place.

• Do not put your credit card number on the Internet unless it is encrypted on a secured site.

• When you order new credit cards in the mail or previous ones have expired, watch the calendar to make sure you get the card within the appropriate time. If you don’t, check with the company to make sure a change of address hasn’t been filed.

• Pay attention to billing cycles, and follow up with creditors if bills don’t arrive on time. A missing bill could mean an ID thief has taken over your credit card account and changed the billing address.

• Cancel all credit cards that you have not used in the last six months. 0pen credit is a prime target.

• Correct all mistakes on your credit report in writing. Send letters return receipt requested.

• Tear up all important documents with account information and social security numbers on them before throwing in the trash. Also cut any old credit cards in several pieces before throwing away.

• Order your credit report at least twice a year. Reports can be obtained from three major sources: Equifax, (800) 685-1111; Experian, (888) EXPERIAN; and TransUnion, (800) 680-7293.

– Tips provided by the National Crime Prevention Council.

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