Tips protect consumers from identity theft

A 21st century criminal can steal someone's identity as easily as a wallet or purse.

With stolen identification and today's technology, thieves have been known to forge stolen checks or apply for credit cards.

According to Kingman police Cpl.

Tracie Homer, the department took 104 reports of forgery and 143 reports of fraud during 2002.

In 2001, there were 68 reports of forgery and 80 reports of fraud.

So-called "dumpster divers" can find deposit slips on a victim's bank account.

They can write a fraudulent check to deposit at a teller's window and then ask for cash back.

A thief who get a victim's check can Scotch tape over the signature and use nail polish remover to erase other writing on the check such as the amount or who it is payable to.

After drying it, the thief fills his or her name and the amount and, after checking with the bank to see whether it will clear, cashes the check.

Some scam artists scan the Internet or CD-ROMS for public records of those who are deceased.

From there, it is a simple step to get a birth certificate, Social Security number or driver's license.

Businesses are also vulnerable.

Someone can contact a company's accountant and get enough information to create a phony business check using a scanned image of a company logo.

Thieves also have been known to pay retail clerks for information on personal checks and create a bogus check with a forged signature.

If someone loses credit cards, they should be cancelled immediately.

Photocopies should be made of both sides of credit cards, Social Security cards and driver's licenses.

Keep toll-free numbers and the identity numbers in a safe place in case a wallet is stolen, Homer suggests.

Credit card and financial records, junk mail solicitations for credit cards and old checks should be shredded.

When ordering bank checks, customers should have first initials instead of first names printed on checks.

Only the bank would know - but thieves will not - if a customer signs a check using initials.

Checks should have work phone numbers and addresses, or a post office box, rather than home phone numbers or addresses.

Social security numbers should not be printed on personal checks.

If credit cards are stolen, filing a police report immediately proves to credit providers the victim is diligent.

It will also give detectives a better chance of recovering lost items.

Law enforcement officials recommend that theft victims call the three national credit reporting organizations immediately to place fraud alerts on their names and Social Security numbers.

The alert means any company that checks a victim's credit knows the information was stolen and would have to contact a theft victim by phone to authorize new credit.

The three credit reporting organizations are: Equifax, (800) 525-6285; Experian (formerly TRW), (888) 397-3742 and Trans Union, (800) 680-7289.

The Social Security Administration fraud line is (800) 269-0271.