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Being 'a little OCD'

Jeremy Polk

Gina Wolfington logged into her bank’s website one Saturday morning to check her account balance and saw a $1 charge that looked curious. Soon another charge appeared.

“Then the charges just started rolling up,” says Wolfington, an administrative coordinator in the Student Health and Wellness Center. “I just sat there and watched them keep coming.”

She called her bank and reported the false charges, then filed a police report. The bank replaced her card, but her drama was not over.

“It was an absolute nightmare, and it happened so fast,” she says.

The thieves needed just a piece of her financial information to obtain more, she says. Some months later, she received a call that someone had applied for credit in her name and was attempting to buy a home. She also received a pickup truck step bumper that she did not order delivered to her home.

No one was arrested in that case, but Wolfington learned some skills that would come into play months later.

Wolfington’s experience is becoming more common, and UNT police Sgt. Jeremy Polk says identity theft is difficult to prevent because thieves find many ways to commit the crime.

Many times identity theft occurs online, and the thief may be in another country.

Teaching people to protect themselves

To help UNT’s students, faculty and staff members defend themselves against identity theft, Polk conducts a training session “Protecting your good name,” for any group on campus that requests it. The police department has scheduled the class for 4 p.m. May 4 in the Business Leadership Building, room 73.

Polk says people need tools so they can know immediately if their identity is stolen and respond appropriately. Everyone needs to be especially vigilant about protecting their financial information, he says.

“One of your best defenses is to either be or befriend a computer geek,” he says. “They can help you ensure that the information you store in your computer is protected.

Polk recommends that people who shop online use only one credit card for all their online purchases. That helps tracking the source of fraudulent charges a bit easier, he says.

A stolen identity happens pretty quickly but it can take months to repair, especially if it goes unreported for a long time.

Be vigilant

Polk says everyone can stand to pay closer attention to their bank statements, credit card accounts and junk mail.

"Be a little OCD about your finances," Polk says. "A lot of people don't look at their online bank statements, or they just log on to pay a bill and don't look closely enough at the activity on their account."

Practicing general safety helps, as well, he says. Bank account numbers, Social Security cards, birth certificates, credit cards and other documents need to be locked up or kept in a safe place, he says. Leaving identifying information lying around where someone can find it – either online or in person – can lead to identity theft that takes months to fix.

Polk says people also can help protect themselves by:

  • Using alerts that banks and credit card providers offer to let you know if a large or unusual charge is made on your account.
  • Looking closely at bank account transactions at least once a week to ensure they all are valid.
  • Canceling unused credit cards.
  • Requesting a credit report regularly. You are entitled to receive a free credit report each year from each of the three reporting companies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Instead of receiving all three at once, stagger those requests so you can receive one every four months.

After her own misfortune, Wolfington attended Polk’s seminar. She determined there that she should copy everything in her elderly father’s wallet and keep it in a safe place.

On New Year’s Eve, he was out by himself when someone assaulted him and took his wallet.

Because she had copies of everything and knew what was missing, she was able to report the losses quickly and minimize the damage.

She says people need to be reminded often how to keep themselves and their identity secure.

“The more you expose yourself to the professionals who clean up these messes, the better,” she says. “Every day criminals think of something new, and you need to know somebody who can stay on top of that.”

Reporting the crime

In addition to reporting a theft to the bank or credit company, Polk says anyone whose identity is stolen should also report the theft to both federal and local authorities.

The Federal Trade Commission accepts complaints online, and Polk recommends filing that complaint first, then taking the information to local police.

“Reporting it does help, even if you don’t see anything happening,” Polk says. “Somebody is assigned to investigate that, even if it is just for the purpose of finding a pattern. It does help.”

“Protecting your good name” is one of many seminars the police department conducts on safety.

Other classes discuss:

Any group or individual on campus can contact Officer Kevin Crawford at 940-369-8984 to schedule a session.

—Matthew Zabel, University Relations, Communications and Marketing

(Photo by Michael Clements / URCM)

Posted on: Fri 10 April 2015

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