Identity Theft Is On the Rise in the Valley

December 22, 2008 2:08:50 PM PST
Merced County authorities have arrested four people accused of stealing the identities of dozens of victims from the Bay Area to Bakersfield.A three month investigation by the Merced County Sheriff's Department led to the arrests of three women and one man on a variety of identity theft charges.

Authorities say their technique was simple, but effective.

Detectives hit four homes throughout Western Merced County Thursday morning, serving search warrants and arresting suspects accused of identity theft, forgery, and credit card theft.

Authorities say Vida Lopez, Jessica Hoag, Jacqueline Dunlap, and Andrea Miranda stole private information from victims across the state.

Det. Jason Goins, Merced Co. Sheriff's Dept: "We had a couple employees working at a local truck stop here in Santa Nella and they were obtaining the customer's credit cards, in return stealing their credit information and buying items themselves."

Detective Jason Goins says the employees took advantage of travelers who stopped into the store from nearby Interstate Five. In many cases, the victims didn't realize they'd been targeted until they were more than a hundred miles away from the scene of the crime.

Det. Goins: "There's always something new coming out that criminals are involved in and this is one of them."

Authorities say identity theft remains on the rise across the country, and here in the Valley. There are constantly new schemes to watch out for, but the Merced County Sheriff's Department says the biggest threat remains on paper.

Deputy Tom MacKenzie: "There's less theft online than there is people going through your garbage trying to find credit card receipts."

Experts say the best way to protect yourself is to shred any documents that contain personal information and check all bills and statements closely for discrepancies. Also, be careful when using credit cards at small stores and restaurants that may still print entire credit card numbers on receipts, rather than just the last four digits as required by law.

The Sheriff's Department also recommends taking advantage of the federal law that allows everyone to get free online credit checks three times a year.


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