By Liliana Castillo: Freedom New Mexico
When it comes to identity theft and fraud, Clovis Police Detective Sonny Smith has three words of advice. Stop and think.
Smith, who investigates identity theft and fraud, known as white collar crimes, said that people should exercise caution when somebody offers exorbitant money for a simple task.
“People just need to realize when it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” Smith said.
Smith, who has been in the field for 16 years, said the fight against fraud and identity theft is challenging because it is constantly changing.
Scams circulating in the Clovis and Portales area range from old-fashioned stealing to scams over the Internet to secret shopper scams and the Canadian lottery, police officials said.
In the secret shopper scam, a person receives a letter that says they’re “hired” to go to specific stores, purchase any item they wish, and report back on the cleanliness, quality of merchandise and service of that particular retail outlet. If they agree, a subsequent mailing includes a check several thousand dollars.
They are asked to cash the check, use the money for purchases, keep some as their salary, and wire back the remaining amount.
The scam is the check is fake, and the “shopper” is on the hook when the bank discovers it.
“Don’t ever agree to a situation that requires you to send money back to someone,” said Smith. “True transactions do not work that way.”
Capt. Lonnie Berry of the Portales Police Department said that the Portales area has seen an increase in fraudulent checks and credit cards over the last year.
“It seems to be an indicator of the economy,” Berry said.
He said a scam that has been circulating Portales is a Canadian lottery in which a resident is informed they won $50,000 or $100,000 Canadian and all they have to do is pay the tax on the winnings.
“The scammers are smart,” Berry said. “They say to send the (tax payment) to someone who has the same last name as the victim. That way credit card companies and banks believe they are simply sending money to a family member.”
Berry said protecting yourself begins with remembering that you can’t win something you didn’t enter, “and you should never pay for a prize you won “
When it comes to protecting yourself from identity theft, you can never play it too safe, Smith said. He says to never led credit or debit cards out of your site, and invest in a shredder.
“You never want a piece of paper in the trash with your name, date of birth, Social Security number or anything on it in the trash,” Smith said. “People make a living going through the trash looking for that.”
Smith said stealing identity from a credit card is big business right now. He said a woman came to the police department because someone had purchased a computer with her credit card, but she hadn’t lost it.
A thief got her information by hacking into a transaction she made earlier that week at an electronics store.
“If someone steals your information, they’re going to use it,” Smith said. “And at that point, time is important.”
Smith said that the sooner a victim of identity theft acts, the better.
“Cancel your debit cards, don’t wait for your credit card statement. If a thief gets a hold of your credit card or any personal information that will allow them to open credit, they’re going to use it. Your credit card could be maxed out in a matter of hours.”