Washington County Sheriff - Crime Prevention Articles
These articles contain tips and tricks to keep you and your family safe, against crime. There is always a safe way to do things and we offer information on how to avoid the most common problems and safety risks. For a list of all archived articles visit our Archived Articles List.
Be Aware, Be Prepared
AVOID CREDIT CARD RIPOFFS
For the sake of maintaining a decent credit score and financing major purchases that cannot wait, you need one credit card. Naturally, you want a credit card with the highest possible credit limit and the lowest possible interest rate.
Be on guard against everyday hazards.
Try to anticipate and pay routine expenses with cash. Using your credit card less, you minimize your exposure. That cute young server who delivered your lunch very easily could have written-down your digits and run-up all kinds of charges from a disposable cell phone by the time you returned to the office. According to Scambusters.org, “Research shows that the rate of fraudulent purchases made by cell phones is much higher than credit card fraud on the net.” If you must use your credit card for business expenses, try not to let it out of your sight. Whether or not the server thinks you are rude, watch her process your transaction; then, carefully enter your thoughtful tip and total the amount yourself. Just as importantly, if you know you frequently will use a credit card, find one that includes cell-phone fraud alerts and lets you track the card’s use from your handheld.
Experts sternly counsel never use your credit card on the telephone—especially never give your credit card information on an incoming call. You have no way of authenticating the call or confirming the caller’s identity. Stories abound about rogue telemarketers who have worked briefly for big banks, memorizing the scripts and perfecting their delivery, then going out to test their criminal skills using the banks’ own lists of borrowers. A few even have run their schemes while remaining on the banks’ payrolls. Especially beware of telephone solicitors who demand too much information: The more they ask, the more you should decline.
Be wary about internet purchases.
Before you worry about the security of an internet purchase, be cautious about its frugality. Check the shipping costs associated with your order as well as the price of the item you like. An extortionate shipping fee will wipe-out your deep discount. If a major retailer offers a great online bargain, call your nearest store and negotiate for similar savings in-store. The best stores—Nordstrom, The Home Depot, and Macy’s, for example–often will meet your demands because they value your loyalty
Never give your credit card information to an unsecured site. Your web browser usually will warn you if you are about to transmit your data to a site not properly encrypted. Never respond to an e-mail that requests your credit card data, and be especially cautious about unsolicited e-mails that ask address and telephone information in addition to your credit card digits. Skilled identity thieves can recreate you with just four or five critical numbers.
Use a good anti-virus program.
Most importantly, maintain your anti-virus software, because sophisticated viruses, often enclosed in fake security software, easily can invade your hard drive and steal all of your personal data. FBI officials report that nearly three-quarters of internet identity theft now originates in malware, and malicious programs proliferate at that the rate more than 100,000 per day.
Track your spending and read your statements.
Reconcile your credit card statements with your records just as religiously as you review and reconcile your checking account statements. When in doubt, contest. If you see a purchase for which you have no receipt or an expense you could not possibly have incurred, call the credit card company’s fraud line. The best, most reputable credit card companies assure they thoroughly investigate all disputed charges; hold them to their promises. More importantly, the best companies will remove the charge from your bill pending the investigation, so that it does not affect your available credit. Apply similar rules to fees. If you dispute any fee’s legitimacy, contest it.
Move shredding to the top of your list for fun evening activities. Shred credit card receipts and unsolicited credit card applications; unless you really intend to use old credit card statements, shred them, too. Better still, go paperless and do the planet a favor. Do not write down your PIN, and try not to use obvious PINs like birthdays and children’s names; indulge your sneaky, devious tendencies as you make-up PINs, and then commit them firmly to memory.
Be aware. Stay alert. Remain calm and confident.
Disabled people face many physical challenges. This makes them vulnerable to would-be assailants who assume the disabled are incapable of protecting themselves.
Look out for yourself:
- Be cautious and aware of your surroundings, whether on the street, in an office building or the shopping mall.
- Stay alert when driving or waiting for a bus or subway.
- Send the message that you are calm, confident, and know where you are going.
- Be realistic about your limitations. Avoid places or situations that put you at risk.
- Know the neighborhoods where you live and work. Check out the locations of police and fire stations, public telephones, hospitals and restaurants or stores that are open and accessible.
- Avoid establishing predictable activity patterns. Vary your daily routines. By never altering your schedule, you increase your vulnerability to crime.
- Install approved locks on all your doors. Sturdy deadbolt locks are best. Make sure you can easily use the locks you install.
- Install peepholes on front and back doors at your eye level. This is especially important if you use a wheelchair.
- Get to know your neighbors. Watchful neighbors who look out for you, as well as themselves, are a frontline defense against crime.
- If you have difficulty speaking, have a friend record a message (giving your name, address and type of disability) to use in emergencies. Keep the tape in a recorder next to your phone.
- Ask your police department to conduct a free home security survey to help identify your individual needs.
Before you go on vacation:
- Plan ahead. If you are traveling by car, get maps and plan your route.
- Have the car checked by your mechanic or a knowledgeable friend before you leave.
- Leave the numbers of your passport, driver’s license, credit cards, and travelers’ checks with a trusted adult.
- Put lights and a radio on timers to create the illusion that someone is at home while you are away.
- Leave shades, blinds and curtains in normal positions.
- Stop mail and deliveries or ask a neighbor to collect them.
Out and about:
- If possible, go with a friend.
- Stick to well-lit, well-travelled streets.
- Avoid shortcuts through vacant lots, wooded areas, parking lots or alleys.
- Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return.
- Carry a purse close to your body — not dangling by the straps. Put a wallet in an inside coat or front pants pocket.
- If you use a wheelchair and carry a purse, secure it to your wheelchair and tuck it snugly between you and the inside of your chair.
- If you use a knapsack, make sure it it is secured to your chair and closed securely.
- In case of an emergency, always carry your medical information.
- Consider carrying a portable cell phone in your vehicle.
On public transportation:
- Use well-lit , busy stops. Stay near other passengers. Sit by the driver.
- Stay alert! Do not doze or daydream!
- If someone harasses you, make a loud noise or say, “Leave me alone.” If that does not work, hit the emergency signal on the bus or train.
Take a stand
- Join or help organize a Neighborhood Watch group. Make sure the meeting sites are accessible to people with disabilities.
- Work with local law enforcement to improve responses to all victims or witnesses of crime. Role-play how people with disabilities can handle threatening situations.
- Work with rehabilitation centers and advocacy groups to offer a presentation to schools and other community organizations on the needs or concerns of individuals with disabilities.
Don’t let a con-artist rip you off
Many con-artists prey on people’s desires to find miracle cures for chronic conditions and fatal diseases.
To outsmart con-artists, remember these tips:
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Don’t let greed or excitement overcome common sense. Wait 24 hours and consult a trusted friend or lawyer before making any decisions.
- Be wary of high pressure tactics, need for quick decisions, demands for cash only, or high-yield-low-risk investments.
Crime and the fear of crime create special problems for the elderly. Crime prevention is everyone's responsibility, not just a job for law enforcement. Seniors can learn how to protect themselves from crime by following these simple, commonsense suggestions. Share these tips with your neighbors and friends, to make it tough for criminals to work in your neighborhood.
AT HOME . . .
- Never open your door automatically. Install and use a peephole.
- Lock your doors and windows. (Three quarters of the burglaries involving older persons involved unlocked doors and windows; and, less than one half of these robberies are reported.) Keep your garage doors locked.
- Vary your daily routine.
- Use "Neighbor Watch" to keep an eye on your neighborhood. A concerned neighbor is often the best protection against crime because suspicious persons and activities are noticed and reported to police promptly.
- Don't leave notes on the door when going out.
- Leave lights on when going out at night; use a timer to turn lights on and off when you are away for an extended period.
- Notify neighbors and the police when going away on a trip. Cancel deliveries such as newspapers and arrange for someone - a neighbor's child, perhaps - to mow the lawn if need be. Arrange for your mail to be held by the Post Office, or ask a neighbor to collect it for you.
- Be wary of unsolicited offers to make repairs to your home. Deal only with reputable businesses.
- Keep an inventory with serial numbers and photographs of resaleable appliances, antiques and furniture. Leave copies in a safe place.
- Don't hesitate to report crime or suspicious activities.
- Install deadbolt locks on all your doors.
- Keep your home well lit at night, inside and out; keep curtains closed.
- Ask for proper identification from delivery persons or strangers. Don't be afraid of asking . . . if they are legitimate they won't mind.
- If a stranger asks to use your telephone, offer to place the call for him or her yourself.
- Never let a stranger into your home. Do not hide your keys under the mat or in other conspicuous places.
- Never give out information over the phone indicating you are alone or that you won't be home at a certain time.
- If you arrive at home and suspect a stranger may be inside, DON'T GO IN. Leave quietly and call 911 to report the crime.
WALKING . . .
- If you are attacked on the street, make as much noise as possible by calling for help or blowing a whistle. Do not pursue your attacker. Call 911 and report the crime as soon as possible.
- Avoid walking alone at night. Try to have a friend accompany you in high risk areas . . . even during the daytime.
- Avoid carrying weapons . . . they may be used against you.
- Always plan your route and stay alert to your surroundings. Walk confidently.
- Stay away from buildings and doorways; walk in well-lighted areas.
- Have your key ready when approaching your front door.
- Don't dangle your purse away from your body. (Twelve percent of all crimes against the elderly are purse snatchings and street robberies.)
- Don't carry large, bulky shoulder bags; carry only what you need. Better yet, sew a small pocket inside your jacket or coat. If you don't have a purse, no one will try to snatch it.
WHILE SHOPPING . . .
- Carry your purse very close to you . . . don't dangle it from your arm. Never leave your purse in a shopping cart. Never leave your purse unattended.
- Don't carry any more cash than is necessary. Many grocery stores now accept checks and automatic teller cards instead of cash.
- Don't display large sums of cash.
- Use checks where possible.
IN YOUR CAR . . .
- Always keep your car doors locked, whether you are in or out of your car. Keep your gas tank full and your engine properly maintained to avoid breakdowns.
- If your car breaks down, pull over to the right as far as possible, raise the hood, and wait INSIDE the car for help. Avoid getting out of the car and making yourself a target before police arrive.
- At stop signs and traffic lights, keep the car in gear.
- Travel well-lit and busy streets. Plan your route.
- Don't leave your purse on the seat beside you; put it on the floor, where it is more difficult for someone to grab it.
- Lock bundles or bags in the trunk. If interesting packages are out of sight, a thief will be less tempted to break in to steal them.
- When returning to your car, check the front and back seat before entering.
- Never pick up hitchhikers.
BANKING . . .
- Many criminals know exactly when government checks arrive each month, and may pick that day to attack. Avoid this by using Direct Deposit, which sends your money directly from the government to the bank of your choice. And, at many banks, free checking accounts are available to senior citizens. Your bank has all the information.
- Never withdraw money from your bank accounts for anyone except YOURSELF. Be wary of con artists and get-rich schemes that probably are too-good-to-be- true.
- You should store valuables in a Safe Deposit Box.
- Never give your money to someone who calls on you, identifying himself as a bank official. A bank will never ask you to remove your money. Banks need the use of your money, and they don't want one of their customers to invite crime by having large amounts of cash around.
- When someone approaches you with a get-rich-quick-scheme involving some or all of YOUR savings, it is HIS get-rich-quick-scheme. If it is a legitimate investment, the opportunity to contribute your funds will still be there tomorrow-after you have had time to consider it.
- If you have been swindled or conned, report the crime to your local police. Con-artists count on their victim's reluctance to admit they've been duped, but if you delay you help them get away. Remember, if you never report the crime, they are free to cheat others again and again and you have no chance of ever getting your money back.
The MOST important thing YOU can do is CALL THE POLICE to report a CRIME or any SUSPICIOUS activity. You have to be the eyes of your neighborhood. And remember you can always remain a pair of anonymous eyes!
Light up your residence, lock your doors at all times, and call the Police when you see something suspicious.
- Make your home look occupied, and make it difficult to break in.
- Lock all outside doors and windows before you leave the house or go to bed. Even if it is for a short time, lock your doors.
- Leave lights on when you go out. If you are going to be away for a length of time, connect some lamps to automatic timers to turn them on in the evening and off during the day.
- Keep your garage door closed and locked.
- Don't allow daily deliveries of mail, newspapers or flyers build up while you are away. Arrange with the Post Office to hold your mail, or arrange for a friend or neighbor to take them regularly.
- Arrange for your lawn to be mowed if you are going away for an extended time.
- Check your locks on doors and windows and replace them with secure devices as necessary.
- Pushbutton locks on doorknobs are easy for burglars to open. Install deadbolt locks on all your outside doors.
- Sliding glass doors are vulnerable. Special locks are available for better security.
- Other windows may need better locks. Check with a locksmith or hardware store for alternatives.
Don't Tempt a Thief:
- Lawn mowers, barbecues and bicycles are best stored out of sight
- Always lock your garden sheds and garages.
- Use curtains on garage and basement windows.
- Never leave notes on your door such as “Gone shopping.”
Locks…Get the Best:
- No lock, regardless of its quality, can be truly effective. Key-in dead bolt locks provide minimum security. Ask a locksmith for advice on your situation.
- Change locks immediately if your keys are lost or stolen.
- When moving into a new home, have all locks changed.
Targeting the Outside:
- Have adequate exterior lighting. A motion-sensitive light is recommended for backyards.
- Trim trees and shrubs so that they cannot be used as hiding places for intruders.
- Make sure your door hinges are on the inside.
- Most windows can be pinned for security.
- Drill a 3/16" hole on a slight downward slant through the inside window frame and halfway into the outside frame - place a nail in the hole to secure the window.
- An alarm system is excellent for home security. It provides peace of mind to homeowners, especially while on vacation. There is a wide variety of alarm systems on the market.
- Make several inquiries to different companies for the best security system available to you.
- If you have a home alarm system, use it! Activate your alarm system — Alarm systems are only useful when you remember to activate them.
- Many individuals have alarm systems but do not arm them because it is inconvenient. Many burglars know this and will not be deterred by a window sticker or sign indicating that the home has an alarm system.
If Your Home Is Broken Into:
If you come home to find an unexplained open/broken window or door:
- Do not enter - the perpetrator may still be inside.
- Use a neighbor's phone to call police.
- Do not touch anything or clean up until the police have inspected for evidence.
- Write down the license plate numbers of any suspicious vehicles.
- Note the descriptions of any suspicious persons.
Other precautions you should take:
- Never leave keys under doormats, flowerpots, mailboxes or other “secret” hiding places -- burglars know where to look for hidden keys.
- Keep a detailed inventory of your valuable possessions, including a description of the items, date of purchase and original value, and serial numbers, and keep a copy in a safe place away from home — this is a good precaution in case of fires or other disasters. Make a photographic or video record of valuable objects, heirlooms and antiques. Your insurance company can provide assistance in making and keeping your inventory.
- Trim your shrubbery around your home to reduce cover for burglars.
- Be a good neighbor. If you notice anything suspicious in your neighborhood, call 9-1-1 immediately.
- Mark your valuables with your driver's license number with an engraver you can borrow from your precinct. Marked items are harder for a burglar to dispose of and easier for police to recover.
- Form a Neighborhood Watch Group. We can help you work with your neighbors to improve security and reduce risk of burglary.
- Consider installing a burglar alarm system.
Tips on how to avoid car break-ins:
- Do not leave valuables in plain view:
(GPS devices, lap tops, PDA’s, cell phones, MP3’s, wallets, purses)
- Do not leave windows or sunroof open.
- Do not leave doors unlocked.
- Do not leave keys in the vehicle.
- Do not leave the garage door opener in plain view.
- Do not leave out items with personal information.
- Do not move valuable items to the trunk while in public view.
- Slow Down and use common sense before you leave your car.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information, like your name, Social Security number, or credit card number, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.
The FTC estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. In fact, you or someone you know may have experienced some form of identity theft.
The crime takes many forms. Identity thieves may rent an apartment, obtain a credit card, or establish a telephone account in your name. You may not find out about the theft until you review your credit report or a credit card statement and notice charges you didn’t make—or until you’re contacted by a debt collector.
Identity theft is serious. While some identity theft victims can resolve their problems quickly, others spend hundreds of dollars and many days repairing damage to their good name and credit record. Some consumers victimized by identity theft may lose out on job opportunities, or be denied loans for education, housing or cars because of negative information on their credit reports. In rare cases, they may even be arrested for crimes they did not commit.
How do thieves steal an identity?
Identity theft starts with the misuse of your personally identifying information such as your name and Social Security number, credit card numbers, or other financial account information. For identity thieves, this information is as good as gold.
Skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to get hold of your information, including:
- Dumpster Diving. They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it.
- Skimming. They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
- Phishing. They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
- Changing Your Address. They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form.
- Old-Fashioned Stealing. They steal wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax information. They steal personnel records, or bribe employees who have access.
- Pretexting. They use false pretenses to obtain your personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources.
How can you find out if your identity was stolen?
The best way to find out is to monitor your accounts and bank statements each month, and check your credit report on a regular basis. If you check your credit report regularly, you may be able to limit the damage caused by identity theft.
Unfortunately, many consumers learn that their identity has been stolen after some damage has been done.
- You may find out when bill collection agencies contact you for overdue debts you never incurred.
- You may find out when you apply for a mortgage or car loan and learn that problems with your credit history are holding up the loan.
- You may find out when you get something in the mail about an apartment you never rented, a house you never bought, or a job you never held.
What should you do if your identity is stolen?
Filing a police report, checking your credit reports, notifying creditors, and disputing any unauthorized transactions are some of the steps you must take immediately to restore your good name.
Should you file a police report if your identity is stolen?
A police report that provides specific details of the identity theft is considered an Identity Theft Report, which entitles you to certain legal rights when it is provided to the three major credit reporting agencies or to companies where the thief misused your information. An Identity Theft Report can be used to permanently block fraudulent information that results from identity theft, such as accounts or addresses, from appearing on your credit report. It will also make sure these debts do not reappear on your credit reports. Identity Theft Reports can prevent a company from continuing to collect debts that result from identity theft, or selling them to others for collection. An Identity Theft Report is also needed to place an extended fraud alert on your credit report.
In order for a police report to entitle you to the legal rights mentioned above, it must contain specific details about the identity theft. You should file an ID Theft Complaint with the FTC and bring your printed ID Theft Complaint with you to the police station when you file your police report. The printed ID Theft Complaint can be used to support your local police report to ensure that it includes the detail required.
A police report is also needed to get copies of the thief’s application, as well as transaction information from companies that dealt with the thief. To get this information, you must submit a request in writing, accompanied by the police report, to the address specified by the company for this purpose.
What can you do to help fight identity theft?
A great deal. Awareness is an effective weapon against many forms identity theft. Be aware of how information is stolen and what you can do to protect yours, monitor your personal information to uncover any problems quickly, and know what to do when you suspect your identity has been stolen.
Armed with the knowledge of how to protect yourself and take action, you can make identity thieves' jobs much more difficult. You can also help fight identity theft by educating your friends, family, and members of your community. The FTC has prepared a collection of easy-to-use materials to enable anyone regardless of existing knowledge about identity theft to inform others about this serious crime.
Every hour someone is getting their identity stolen. Things we take for granted can open the door for a thief. You tell yourself that you have to use a credit card to pay for this or that, or you try to play it safe and write a check at the store instead. You get such a great discount if you apply for this one store’s credit card. All things we all do every day to exist.
Identity theft is happening in every city, town no matter what the size. It is defined by Wikipedia.org as “a form of stealing someone's identity in which someone pretends to be someone else by assuming that person's identity, typically in order to access resources or obtain credit and other benefits in that person's name.” It is not just the current economy that brings about this crime, it has happened for decades. As long as there are dishonest people, someone will try to steal something that does not belong to them.
The problem with identity theft is it happens behind the scenes. Most people don't even know anything is wrong until it is too late. These thieves take your information and get credit cards, open a bank account, change mailing address and spend your money. They depend on most people to not check their accounts regularly. When someone does notices something, they could have racked up devasting amounts of debt and/or had their bank accounts cleaned out.
Exactly what information do they need to be successful at stealing an identity? Not much. If they can obtain your birth date, address or phone number, they are on their way. They can begin to set up a post office box, a fake driver license, store credit card all in their name and with their photo! Each step they take, they build credibility.
Information is obtained from many sources: school, health insurance carrier and any other mail you leave in your mailbox for “pick up” the next day. Some even go so far as picking through your garbage to get more information from bills, credit card slips and any other documents you do not shred.
Key Tips In Staying Safe
- Don’t leave outgoing mail in your mailbox. Drop it off at the post office or a local box at a business.
- Don’t advertise personal information on social media.
- Don’t give out personal information on phone surveys, via email or on the Internet unless you initiated the process; like signing up for a new online account. BEWARE: it is always best to get a special charge card that you use only for Internet purchases. Ask the bank to put a limit on the amount that you might normally spend on a given shopping spree. Be reasonable and conservative. Having a $10,000 limit is not a limit. Try capping the card at $1,000 or less. Check with your bank.
- Buy a shredder and use it. Shred all documents received in the mail that has your name, address and any other personal information before you throw it out. This includes insurance forms, bank statements and unsolicited memberships.
- Make your passwords difficult. If they are easy enough for you to remember without looking, they are too easy to steal. The best passwords are the longest and those that merge upper and lower case letters with numbers. It has been said that using a 3-word statement is the hardest to crack. Of course never use the name of the site, your name, your mother’s maiden name, your birth date or any numbers from your social security number. e.g.: gokart20tabledrive12.
- Limit the number of credit cards you hold and especially ones you carry. Never carry your social security card, birth certificate or passport, unless necessary.
- Never use a credit card on the Internet unless you see it is a locked and encrypted site. (Https:// instead of http://). Look for a lock icon on the page.
- Limit your personal information being distributed as much as possible. Put as little information as you can on your checks. Never put your social security number or phone number on your checks or any other forms without viewing their privacy notice.
- Approach ATMs with caution. Don’t let anyone get in line directly behind you when you are entering your information. Either ask them to step back or leave without doing your transaction. If they get your PIN number, they will have access to your entire account.
- Always keep a list of your credit cards, numbers and customer service phone numbers in a safe place. Keep your passwords and pin numbers with them.
- Ordering checks or a new credit card? Circle the date they said you would receive them and then call if you don’t receive it that day.
- Keep track of your monthly bills. Know approximately when they normally arrive. If anyone is late, call the company and express your concern. This is a good indication of identity theft.
- Order your credit report at least twice a year. Reports should be obtained from all three major sources: Equifax at 800-685-1111; Experian at 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); or TransUnion at 800-680-7293.
If you are the victim of identity theft, contact your local law enforcement agency, all your credit card agencies and complete an identity theft packet (provided by local law enforcement).
Article written by: Helen Neal of HLN Web Designs
Information and recommendations are compiled from sources believed to be reliable. The Sheriff’s Office makes no guarantee as to and assumes no responsibility for the correctness, sufficiency or completeness of such information or recommendations. Other or additional safety measures may be required under particular circumstances.