By Paula Walter
A federal investigation into the cashing of counterfeit checks in both southwestern Virginia and northeastern Tennessee recently led to the arrest of 68 people. Bogus checks totaling more than $90,000 were cashed throughout the region. The scam revolved around checks that were similar to the type trucking companies often supply to truck stops, giving their drivers immediate access to cash. Scams such as this and others have become prevalent across much of the country.
A cursory glance through Johnson County court dockets shows multiple charges of identity theft, forgery and fraudulent use of credit cards. According to Johnson County Sheriff Mike Reece, the department receives approximately two to three calls from residents every week regarding fraud. Its just an everyday thing anymore, said Reece. While some of the identity and credit card theft occurs on a local level, approximately half is generated overseas and is difficult, if not often impossible, to track.
Identity theft occurs when someone is able to obtain personal information, such as your name, where you live, financial information, credit card information and even your Social Security number. Despite due caution, there are often elaborate schemes to obtain information on millions of people each year. In 2011, approximately 12 million people found themselves victims of identify theft, the fastest growing crime in the United States. Posting your birthday or address puts those who use social networking, such as Facebook and Twitter, at an increased risk of becoming victims of fraud.
While it can be convenient, those who pay with debit and charge cards are considered at high risk for identity theft. In years past, thieves would riffle through piles of trash, looking for those old carbon copies of credit card slips. In todays world, fraud has become more sophisticated. A waitress at your favorite restaurant takes your credit card to pay for the lunch you just ate, and while she runs it through the cash register for payment, she may also run it through a small device known as a skimmer. With this information in her possession, she can now go on a spending spree using your credit card. Hackers are able to infiltrate electronic transactions and obtain both credit card and personal information. Using credit cards as opposed to bank debit cards gives the consumer an extra layer of protection as most financial institutions, such as banks and creditors, typically only hold the cardholder responsible for the first $50 of unauthorized charges. Invest in a paper shredder and destroy old credit and debit cards, along with any correspondence from financial institutions. If you misplace bank or credit card, contact your bank immediately. Malware or spyware installed on computers has the ability to gather your data. These programs are often sent as emails with an attachment, and once opened, automatically downloads onto the computer. Your personal facts are now available for the scammers use.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.
By Paula Walter