Mail theft: identity fraud cases on rise

Three recent identity theft cases have led the Hood River County Sheriff’s Office to warn citizens about leaving their mail unattended on rural delivery routes.

Detective Gerry Tiffany said that two victims in Parkdale and one in Cascade Locks have come forward to report criminal activity on their credit card and bank accounts since mid-June. He said all three of these incidents appear to have originated with stolen mail that gave suspects the opportunity to assume a false identity.

The worst case to date, he said, is that of Woodworth Road residents who had a box of 200 new checks taken out of their mailbox last month. Not only are these individuals trying to iron out about $3,000 of bad check problems, but they are also fielding the collection calls from irate business owners.

Even more sinister, said Tiffany, is that the victims recently received a telephone inquiry about their Social Security numbers from a suspect who claimed to represent the sheriff’s office — and they turned that data over in trust.

“No one should give out that type of personal information over the phone, if we need to ask you those kind of questions we will pay you a personal visit or ask them when you call us,” said Tiffany.

The second case in Parkdale involved a Trout Creek Ridge Road couple who were moving and might have left a credit card application in their old mailbox. The suspect in that incident ran up $1,500 in charges before the identity theft was discovered. In Cascade Locks, the victim had also recently moved but was able to close down her account after losing only $800 from the cashing of fake checks.

Tiffany said these crimes are probably being committed by people in the drug trade and are interconnected. He said two of the cases involve false photo identification that appears to be computer generated, a growing problem in Portland.

“It is a long drawn process to get these types of problems fixed and people need to take extra steps to protect themselves,” said Tiffany.

Local law enforcement officials recommend that residents take the following precautions:

* Take outgoing mail to the post office, never put it in the box with the flag raised — an open invitation to thieves.

* Don’t throw unwanted mail away intact, especially pre-approved credit card applications. Burn or shred these items first.

* Make arrangements with the postal service to have mail held if you will be leaving town on a vacation; do not leave your mail in the box overnight.

* Make sure you completely destroy old credit card receipts and reserve one card only for internet purchases to better track usage.

* Check your credit report periodically to ensure that no one is mounting up debt in your name.

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