Protect Yourself Series

By Greg Duggan
Observer staff
August 7, 2008

Some people will do anything for a buck, and, all too often, that means stealing it from someone else.

In Williston, said officer Keith Gonyeau, police frequently see e-mail and telephone scams. Falling victim to such a scam — and giving out personal information — can lead to identity theft.

According to the Vermont Attorney General's Web site, “Vermont law defines identity theft as the unauthorized use of another person's personal identifying information to obtain credit, goods, services, money or property.”

Scams can come in multiple forms.

“A lot of times people will call up, say a relative's been arrested in some other place, and is using your name, and they need all your info. We've seen that,” Gonyeau said. “We've seen e-mail asking for a name, date of birth.”

Though phone scams still exist, Gonyeau said e-mail scams are becoming more prevalent. Regardless of how information is requested, Gonyeau warned against revealing personal info, including name, birth date and social security number.

“Don't give out your information until you're certain who you're dealing with,” Gonyeau cautioned.

The Williston Police Department Web site, town.williston.vt.us/police/index.htm, has a list of suggestions for preventing identity theft, as well as tips for resolving problems that arise when identity theft does occur. Advice includes making periodic checks of credit reports, canceling unused credit cards, carefully checking credit card and bank statements and shredding all personal information.

Cindy Morgan, marketing manager at New England Federal Credit Union in Williston, also emphasized the importance of using a shredder. The credit union has for years hosted “Shred Fests,” where people can dispose of any documents with confidential information — including bank statements, old checks and old tax returns. The final Shred Fest of 2008 is occurring on Sept. 20, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the credit union's Williston location at 141 Harvest Lane.

“It's reassuring,” Morgan said. “When you're shredding, it's not in the trash can, because you've heard of dumpster diving type of people, where identity thieves get that information.”

Like the Williston police site, the credit union's Web site, www.nefcu.com, also contains tips for protecting against identity theft.

But financial security extends beyond taking precautions to protect personal information.

In instances of more direct crime, police also get reports of people having credit cards stolen out of purses or shopping carts. A new trick for thieves, Gonyeau said, is to rifle through bags at fitness clubs and take wallets, purses and credit cards.

If a credit card is stolen, Gonyeau suggested the cardholder cancel the card as soon as possible.

“The trend we see, (the thieves) go and make several large purches, until the (victim) reports it stolen,” Gonyeau said. “That's what people really need to do when they notice it missing.”

Once again, the key is to prevent the theft.

“Be careful about your cards and stuff you're carrying, that they're secure on you and not just lying around,” Morgan said.