The Conyers Police Department has issued a lookout for two women who are believed to have passed a number of fraudulent checks at Walmarts in Conyers, Chamblee, Dunwoody and Gwinnett County. Anyone with information in those cases is asked to contact Crime Stoppers at 404-577-TIPS (8477). (Special photo)
CONYERS — It could just be a sign of the times, but local law enforcement agencies respond to several reports of identity theft or fraud every week.
Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office Cpl. Michael Camp said financial identity fraud and theft have been an issue for several years, which likely will only continue as people increase their exposure through online and electronic banking and commercial transactions.
“It’s just the modern world we live in,” he said. “Information is out there a lot more.”
Law enforcement responds to a number of cases where victims report that someone has attempted to open a bank account using their Social Security number or has made a number of purchases using their credit card or debit card number.
Likewise, Camp said, the Sheriff’s Office has arrested suspects who have attempted to cash fraudulent checks. For example, a Conyers woman was arrested earlier this month after she cashed a bad cashier’s check for nearly $2,000 at a local convenience store. The victim told the Sheriff’s Office that he would not press charges if she repaid the money. However, when she failed to do so, 20-year-old Stephanie Trevino of 1150 Sigman Road, was arrested.
Officer Kim Lucas with the Conyers Police Department said instances of financial transaction card fraud are becoming more common.
“It seems as though it is becoming easier to commit this kind of fraud,” she said.
Not only is the information easier to obtain, but different retailers have different policies and practices that could either guard against this type of crime or facilitate its frequency. For instance, Lucas said, some retailers have a policy that they simply do not check identification, even if someone is purchasing a large ticket item. Others, such as certain grocery stores, train their cashiers to ask for ID if a customer is attempting to buy multiple gift cards, for example.
This week, the CPD issued a lookout for two women who are believed to have passed a number of fraudulent checks at Walmart locations in Conyers, Chamblee, Dunwoody and Gwinnett County. Anyone with information in those cases is asked to contact Crime Stoppers at 404-577-TIPS (8477).
While financial identity fraud and theft are common, instances are not necessarily on the rise in Rockdale County. According to the Sheriff’s Office, 89 cases were reported in the first six months of 2013 compared to 69 between Jan. 1 and June 24 this year. Even so, the RCSO has two investigators assigned to work on identity theft and other white collar crimes.
The Sheriff’s Office in Newton County has reported that it is seeing an uptick in the number of cases involving financial identity theft and fraud.
“We have five or six reports a day that we get of some sort of fraudulent ID fraud, fraudulent checking account activity – and that doesn’t even include stolen credit card activity,” said Newton County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Jeff Alexander.
He said there are many ways that financial information can be stolen – either because thieves can find holes in individuals’ or companies’ protective online firewalls, or credit card numbers are copied down by dishonest clerks or servers in restaurants, for example. Alexander said he has not heard of any instances locally, but knows that some people have been victimized by skimmers that have been placed on ATMs and credit card machines.
Lucas said that the skimmers allow a criminal to copy the information that is stored on the black strip on a credit or debit card and simply transfer it to another card that uses the same technology — such as a hotel key — and use that for transactions.
Alexander said while Newton County has had some convictions in these cases, it is a difficult and time-consuming process.
“It’s difficult to track back to the source and a lot of times, the source is not even in this country,” he said.
Camp agreed and said many times the RCSO is dealing with out-of-state institutions or agencies. In the case of Trevino, she cashed a check from a Wells Fargo Bank in California.
“The good thing is, most banks are very cooperative with victims, and through FDIC, they’ll reimburse them up to a certain amount,” Alexander said. “The fact is, it’s a loss all the way around. Nobody gets their stuff back 100 percent. There is always somebody who is out.”
Lucas said that the police department would like to see stiffer penalties for people convicted of identity theft and fraud in hopes that it would dissuade people from committing the crime.
In the meantime, Lucas suggested that it is best to use credit cards whenever possible rather than debit cards that take money directly from one’s bank in the event the bank is not willing to reimburse.
Camp advised that people take extra steps to protect their identity, such as checking their credit score on a regular basis, and shredding or burning any mail that could contain identifying information.