LEWISTOWN - Each year in the United States, millions of people are victims of identity theft, costing them in excess of $5 billion, according to the U.S. Postal Service.
Locally, the Lewistown Police Department receives 6 to 10 calls a month from people who say they are getting scammed or notice a fraudulent transaction on their credit card bill.
Bill Herkert, LPD chief, said people have often called police and stated, "I just received a bill in the mail from a credit card I didn't open," "I just received a phone call verifying a purchase I made in another state" or "someone is using my name to obtain credit and is charging at a mall."
These are becoming all-too-typical cases and crimes across the nation that law enforcement is investigating. When a citizen thinks they might be the victim of identity theft they should take these steps as quickly as possible to stop more crimes using his or her name:
Victims should contact any of the three major consumer reporting companies, Transunion, Equifax or Experian, and place a fraud alert on their credit report. This will stop thieves from opening any additional accounts in one's name. All three companies share information and will place a fraud alert on a report.
Once a victim places a fraud alert on their file, this entitles them to order a free copy of their credit report from the three reporting companies. The companies will only ask for the last four digits of the victim's Social Security number. Consumers should check the information and report any discrepancies to the companies.
Victims should close account known or believed to have been tampered with or opened. Consumers should call the relevant companies and speak to their security departments.
File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission online or through their hotline at (866) 653-4261. By registering with the FTC, a victim will be sharing their report with a federal agency that is responsible for investigating identity theft crimes across the nation.
Victims should print out the FTC report to provide it to companies and your local police.
Make an identity theft report with local police and have the FTC report be part of the case.
Local police will do everything they can do in their power to solve a local scam or fraudulent activity.
"We work on cases locally all the time." Herkert said, "We find people victimized locally and we will follow up and make arrests on it."
Herkert said prevention is a main part of fraud they are working on at the department. The more people are informed about scams, the less likely they will be victimized.
"We make sure the information is filed with the FTC." Herkert said, "We share the information with other law enforcement agencies to be able to follow up on the investigation."
He said it is very important that the FTC gets involved. The FTC has been designated as the federal agency to cross state lines and nationally to fight fraudulent activities, Herkert said.
LPD Detective Charles Miller said there has been a rise in cases involving a skimming device. This device is being used at gas stations and restaurants around the state and as close to Lewistown as State College, he said.
Miller said the skimming device will read the magnetic strip in credit or debit cards and the scammer will have access to these cards and be able to sell the card numbers or create fake cards for themselves.
Miller said a way to avoid becoming a victim of this scam is to be careful where debit or credit cards are used.