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Shoppers Urged To Be Cautious Against Holiday Identity Thieves

November 22, 2005 -- Many people are planning their Thanksgiving guest and Christmas list. So are the crooks. How do we keep ourselves from being victims of identity theft and who are their targets? This is a crime that affects everyone especially if or when it happened to you. You'd be surprised at how easy it is for someone to steal your identity and turn your life upside down.

The Houston Police Department is warning shoppers and stores to keep their guard up as this holiday season rolls around. HPD Financial Crimes Unit Sergeant Ricky Campbell says would-be identity thieves are not who you think they are and your vital information can never be fully safe. "These predators are always looking for ways to steal your identity and in same cases will convince your co-workers to obtain your information for a price," said Sergeant Campbell. Identity theft is much bigger than most realize, leading to other crimes such as forgery, counterfeiting, check and credit card fraud, computer fraud, impersonations and even terrorism.

A recent article printed in Money Magazine called identity theft, America's No. 1 consumer complaint. HPD Financial Crimes Unit supervisor, Lieutenant Craig Williams commented that anyone is a potential victim of Identity Theft. "It's not a matter of if you become a victim, it's a matter of when, and it's extremely easy." Thieves routinely use stolen credit cards repeatedly, taking over accounts, using personal information to open new ones. The Houston Police Department Financial Crimes Unit averages approximately twenty thousand cases yearly and that number is growing.

Identity theft components take on many forms.

-Computer Crimes result in theft of personal information by use of Spyware, e-mail hackers and in many cases through online transactions.

-Personal Betrayal is when friends, co-workers and even relatives manage to gain access to your personal data and sells it to someone else.

-Document Loss is the most common. Information is gathered from stolen wallets, checkbooks, credit cards and stolen mail, mainly bills or invoices.

-Business Leaks are associated with consumer files lost or material breached over a period of time.

Other modes of operation for identity thieves are stealing purses from shoppers who leave them in shopping carts, cars or pick-pocketing wallets in crowds such as sporting events.

Rummaging through residential trashcans or business dumpsters called "Dumpster Diving" is very popular. Obtaining credit reports by posing as someone like landlords and employers is not uncommon. Some thieves break into homes searching for personal information on paper or computers.

For more information about how to reduce your chances of becoming a victim contact the Houston Police Department Financial Crimes Unit at 713-308-2500.

AW/ NM11-21-05

For additional information, please contact the HPD Public Affairs Division at 713-308-3200.