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Protecting yourself

Identity theft hits in unexpected places

Emily Crone

It’s no secret that identity theft is becoming an increasingly common crime. What’s changing the game, however, is how people are committing the crimes. Criminals are constantly developing new schemes, and it’s important to stay aware of them to prevent becoming a victim. Here are two recent identity theft crimes worth highlighting.

A sheriff’s wife
Law enforcement officers exist to protect us from crime. While it’s not their spouses’ jobs to enforce law, aren’t they’re supposed to help set a good example for the rest of the community, too? Not for all of them, apparently. The wife of a Missouri sheriff was recently charged with one felony count of identity theft, KOAM-TV reports.

Three years ago, Michelle Higgins allegedly used her mother-in-law’s Social Security number to open a credit card account. She racked up $14,000 in charges that were never paid, so it was turned over to a collection agency.

Evidence points to Higgins filling out a credit card application for the Golden City Community Center. Higgins told the Missouri Highway Patrol “she misread the application, and thought it was for the Golden City Day Care, which she owned at the time.” Hmmm … she can’t remember her own company’s name?

This goes to show that even respected citizens in the community can turn to identity theft. It’s easier than holding a gun to someone’s head and demanding their wallet — you often never have to have a direct interaction with the person you’re stealing from. If you have a family member who is having a hard time financially and/or has a drug problem, be wary. If they are desperate enough, they may try to use your personal and financial information for his or her gain.

Craigslist encounters
While Craigslist isn’t used much in some cities, it is very popular in Austin. I’ve used it to find jobs, scope out apartments, buy a bicycle, give away old mattresses and so on. The site also has a personals section. Categories include strictly platonic, romance, missed connections and the scandalous “casual encounters.”  One Minnesota couple used postings on this area of the site to commit identity theft, Fox News reports.

The couple posted ads for sex on Craigslist, and arranged meetings at hotels or homes.  “The couple allegedly conspired to steal IDs and credit cards during the meetings by distracting their victims,” Fox reports. The stolen documents were used to obtain money, buy prescription drugs and steal personal checks and other information from the mailboxes of the victims.

The couple was indicted this week in federal court, facing charges of document trafficking, aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit a crime against the U.S.

If you decide to meet up with a stranger for any reason, remember that they may have a hidden motive. Leave your personal belongings in your car or hidden in a safe place.

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