Expert: Identity theft increases during holidays

CNJ Photo Illustration: Gabriel Monte Clovis Detective Sonny Smith said residents should shred junk mail and other documents containing personal information before throwing it out to protect their identities.

By Gabriel Monte: CNJ Staff Writer

Identity theft happens year round but thieves strike more frequently during the holidays because of increased shopping activity, according to identity theft expert Zachary Friesen.

He said credit card information is more likely to be stolen as retail stores hire temporary employees to meet the influx of holiday shoppers.

“Identity theft is a very smart crime,” said Friesen who offers identity protection courses in colleges and high schools. “It’s not like they’re snatching and running with it. They know what the best times are and they’re targeting people at those times.”

His courses are funded by Lifelock, an identity protection service.

In Clovis, Police Detective Sonny Smith said residents are often victims of scams involving fraudulent checks.

Smith investigates white-collar crimes such as identity theft and fraud.

Smith said scams involving fraudulent cashier’s checks are common in the area. He said victims often sell their property and end up with checks with forged dollar amounts.

“If someone gives you more money than what you asked for, there’s something wrong,” he said. “Don’t ever cash a money order or a cashier’s check unless you know exactly where it came from. It’s going to be bogus and you’re going to end up owing your bank some money.”

Tips to avoid identity theft:

Here are a few tips to protect yourself from identity theft during the holidays and what consumers should do if they’re a victim of identity theft:

• Check your credit report

Friesen said the three major credit reporting companies are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

Clovis Police detective Sonny Smith said the three companies work with each other and inform one another about credit theft.

“If you check you’ve at least got an idea of what’s going on with it,” Friesen said. “That’s the first and biggest step.”

• Pay attention to credit card transactions

Identity thieves hide their purchases within numerous holiday transactions on a credit card.