What is Identity Theft?
Identity Theft in El Paso is a crime that will affect almost every person in El Paso. Identity theft has become a household phrase and is a subject that we have all become familiar with. Identity theft and identity fraud are terms defined by any crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person's personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.
Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the U.S. Almost every person in the U.S. and El Paso will eventually have an encounter with someone who is attempting to get personal information in a deceptive way. In the worst cases, some will become victims that will have their identities hi-jacked altogether, running up vast debts and committing crimes while using the victim's name, address, SSN and credit information. In many cases, a victim's losses may include not only out-of-pocket financial losses, but additional financial costs associated with trying to restore his/her reputation in the community and correcting erroneous information for which the criminal is responsible.
Is Identity Theft a Problem in El Paso?
El Paso and other Texas cities have managed to slightly buck U.S. trends for recessions and unemployment, however, when it comes to identity theft, we have not been so lucky. In a city with a unique array of business and trade interests, there are many opportunities for identity theft and fraud. Identity theft as been listed as the number one consumer complaint in El Paso and abroad for seven consecutive years. Statistics may reflect an even higher number of complaints and actual crime data, since some victims choose to call their financial institutions instead of notifying the police when theft occurs. In Texas, identity theft is not treated as seriously as crimes like burglary or robbery, but there can still be significant penalties in cases involving large sums. When serious ID theft or fraud does occur, the police will rely on documented evidence when charging an individual in a case such as check fraud or credit card fraud. They'll use signed checks, credit card receipts, credit applications or even your Internet address, if the act was committed online. Police recommend requesting a police report anytime you notice your cards are missing or if unauthorized charges appear on your accounts.
According to an April 2012 report from ID Analytics, the cities of Beaumont and El Paso lead the nation in per-capita identity manipulation attempts. In fact, 11 of the top 20 zip codes identified are located in Texas - and along with EL Paso include Houston, McAllen, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Midland, and San Antonio. Identity manipulation differs slightly from identity theft in that a specific individualís information is not targeted. Instead, fraudsters apply for accounts using false names, Social Security numbers, addresses or dates of birth. El Paso law enforcement agents have recently stepped up their efforts to fight back against identity theft in the community of El Paso.
Scams are becoming more and more common throughout the world. Scams do not always involve a criminal assuming someone else's identity, however, many do. Scams take place by use of the U.S. Mail, E-mails, telemarketers, internet sites, door to door sales and newspaper ads just to name a few. The scams listed below have taken place in the El Paso area:
Lottery: Unsolicited contact stating you won a substantial prize
in a national lottery and are to send money to pay administration fees and taxes. Solicitor
usually requests money sent via Western Union.
Internet Auction: Misrepresentation of a product advertised for sale through an internet auction site and solicit payment by means of Western Union (E-bay and PayPal will not solicit a method of payment).
Phishing/Pharming: E-mail appears to be from a credible company and a requests to update account information. These scams are also sent via text messages to cell phones.
Job Scams: Fake Jobs are posted on Monster.com, Craigslist, CareerBuilder.com and other legitimate websites so the public assumes that since the websites are well-known, that the job is also safe. Where in fact these websites don't check or verify any of the jobs that are posted. Recently, El Paso police arrested a man who advertised fake job fairs on Craigslist in order to steal personal information from applicants. The fake job fairs were hosted at area hotels where the alleged thief was using the alias 'David Hernandez' and doing business as Jaimarie Investments LLC.. According to the Craigslist ad, applicants were needed as representatives to to sell small business credit services. Applicants were directed to a rent-by-day office for a short interview, which led to the applicant being "hired." The applicant was then asked to provide personal information such as their name, date of birth, Social Security number and bank account information. Police allege that he also organized job fairs over the past week at a well-known hotel. He was arrested on suspicion of theft of over $1,500 and booked into the El Paso County Jail on a $5,000 bond.
Advance Fee: Share a huge sum of money in return for using your bank account to transfer money out of the country.
Pyramid Scheme: Invitation to sign up to a money-making club. You pay a small joining fee and must invite a specified number of other people to join in order to claim your reward.
Money Loans: Offers fast money without formal credit checks. You're told your loan is approved but you need to pay costs via a money transfer.
Credit Card Security Question: A caller will say they are from your credit card company and are investigating fraudulent charges. The caller asks for the three to four digit security numbers on back to verify you have the card. Credit card companies will never ask for information printed on the card since they issued it.
Work At Home: Often advertised as paid work from home. After application, they are hired and given a check and instructed to cash the check and send some money back. Returned money is to pay for materials and later, the victim learns the check was fake to begin with.
Counterfeit Check: You receive a check in the mail. You are asked to deposit the money into your account and then immediately send a portion of the proceeds via money order to a particular location. These checks are fake and the bank will hold you responsible.
Past Due Utility Bill: The latest scam in El Paso reported by local news involves someone calling you on the phone and informing you that your water bill is overdue. The person is someone pretending to be an employee of your utilities billing department. You are asked to pay your bill along with late fees immediately. If you do supply your credit card number over the phone, the person threatens to shut off your water.
Secret Shoppers: Consumers should be very cautious about advertisements for employment such as secret shoppers, mystery shoppers, or investigative shoppers. When a consumer contacts the company about the position, they are told they can earn money by purchasing items at different stores or dining at different restaurants. These jobs are often advertised on Craigslist, newspaper's classified, help wanted section or through unsolicited email. They charge a fee just for applying and many times you will be asked to pay this fee up front online or while talking to one of their representatives on the phone. It is advisable that you should be skeptical of any secret shopper, mystery shopper, or investigative shopper companies that state or claim the following:
- Advertise jobs for secret shoppers over the radio, in newspaper's classifieds, help
wanted section of a job board, Craigslist, or through email. Legitimate secret shopper
companies will never advertise for secret shopper jobs in this manner.
- "Guarantee" a job as a mystery, secret, or investigative shopper.
- Charge a fee just for applying or charge a fee for access to secret shopping job opportunities. Many times you will be asked to pay a fee up front, however, legitimate or not, you should not pay any fee to apply or to obtain job information.
- Appear to be located in places outside the country, such as Canada. If the company does not have an established office nearby that you can visit in person, be very cautious. It is always a good idea to check with the Better
Business Bureau and investigate any business offering this sort of employment.
*** Remember that legitimate Secret Shopper Companies will NEVER advertise in the classifieds section of your local newspaper, on the radio, Craigslist, or through email. There are legitimate mystery shopper jobs but they are difficult to find. They will not advertise on the radio, in the newspaper, Craigslist or through email.
Other versions of similar scams might work this way: People respond to an ad looking for a mystery shopper or a secret shopper. When they contact the company about the position, they are told they can earn money by purchasing items at different stores or dining at different restaurants. The company then sends an employment packet. The packet includes business evaluation forms, a training assignment and a cashier's check, often ranging between $2,000 and $4,000. The training assignment is to cash the check, pose as a customer, and wire the money to an address in Canada. The scam is that the check is fake. The check bounces after the person wires the money, leaving the person liable for the fake check. People who apply for the secret shopper or mystery shopper jobs are told by the company that they have only 48 hours to complete the assignment or they will lose the job. El Paso consumers need to know that a legitimate company will never send you a cashier's check out of the blue or require you to send money to someone you have never met. Scam artists use realistic looking documents, the 'secret' nature of the job, and the 48-hour deadline to pressure consumers into cashing the check and wiring the money quickly before the bank or the consumer can determine it was a fake check. By then, it's too late.
Fake cashiers check scams
come in many forms. Generally:
1. Do not depend on the funds from a cashier's check from a source you do not know.
2. There is usually no legitimate reason for someone who is giving you money to ask for money to be wired back or wired to a third party. Don't do it.
3. Do not rely on the fact that the check was accepted for deposit by their financial institution as evidence of the check's authenticity. It can take up to a week or much longer for a financial institution to determine whether a check is good, especially if the check is from an institution located outside the United States.
4. Consumers are responsible for the deposited fake check, even if it was a cashier's check. When the check bounces, the bank deducts from the consumer's account the amount that was credited with the fake check--often with charges added. The bank will not take the loss.
THIS INFORMATION WAS PROVIDED TO ASSIST EL PASO RESIDENTS WITH SCAM DETECTION INFORMATION: Financial Crimes Unit 911 N. Raynor El Paso, TX 79903 . . PHONE: (915) 564-7130 FAX: (915) 564-7179.
El Paso is the 19th largest city in the United States, and since 1997, has been ranked at or near the top spot for safest cities. In 2013, we were #1 again. Even though El Paso is like other cities that are home to major corporations, El Paso also has a location that shares a border with Mexico and thus attracts foreign businesses and trade related industries. Our unique combination of economic interests, trade routes and diverse culture make us just as prone as other cities to fraud and identity theft.