Big news, huh? Identity theft becoming a rising problem? Two years ago it was an emerging problem in our area, averaging about one each week. At the same time, identity theft was considerably more pronounced in bigger cities in Texas and across the nation.

Today, Central Texas, and Copperas Cove in particular, has become a fertile harvest ground for identity thieves. In Cove alone, we average about one a day.

Identity theft, also known in legal jargon as fraudulent use/possession of identifying information, has become so prevalent in our society that an entire industry designed to combat identity theft has emerged. These companies offer identity theft protection for an annual or monthly fee and offer services such as identity theft recovery.

The emergence and radical expansion of social media have negatively impacted this growing crime, exposing countless millions of users to the thief’s list of potential victims.

So much personal information is floating around in cyberspace that ID thieves have little difficulty in amassing sufficient information to perpetrate ID fraud. Skeptics need only “google” their own name on the Internet to have their eyes opened. You will be surprised at the amount of information made available by that simple step.

Any reasonably adept computer user with Internet access is capable of finding out practically anything they wish to know about almost anyone.

It doesn’t take much information to open a bank or charge account in someone else’s name and, once successful, massive amounts of goods, services and yes, financial assets, are available to the thief.

It is true that victims of identity theft can minimize the damage by acting quickly once fraudulent activity is detected, but once the damage has been done, it takes many hours of effort and a considerable amount of legal fencing to bring the damage under control.

Obviously, the best defense against identity fraud is to minimize risk factors. Doing so will make thieves seek other, more vulnerable prey. Anyone who is interested in avoiding becoming a victim of ID theft can take steps to protect themselves.

Many valuable tips may be accessed by visiting IdentityTheft.gov, the federal trade commission website devoted to this crime. Information regarding reporting and recovering from identity theft is available there.

Recent large scale data breaches such as those reported by retailers Home Depot and Target are particularly troubling, simply because of the enormous amount of information maintained by the retail industry on cardholders. Any ID thief worth their salt would give an eyetooth and one arm to access such a vast bounty of personal information.

Prevention is the key. While it is not possible to completely immunize oneself against identity theft, anyone using a little common sense and available resources can make life difficult for the ID thief.

Safeguard your personal information, whether online, on your mobile or computer devices or on paper. Protect them as you would paper money.

Limit what you carry in your purse or wallet to those things absolutely necessary at the time. Keep the remainder secured at home. In the event of theft, you will only need to be concerned with the credit card or driver’s license you’ve lost.

Before sharing personal information with your child’s school, your workplace or the doctor’s office, ask why the information is needed and how it will be safeguarded.

Shred receipts, credit offers, insurance forms, used checks, bank statements and similar documents once they are no longer needed.

Secure personal information before receiving friends or guests in your home.

Consider opting out of prescreened offers of credit or insurance by mail. You can do this by calling 888-657-8688 or at www.optoutprescreen.com. The three national credit reporting companies operate the phone number and the website.

Never give out personal information over the telephone. Chances are, you’re giving the information to a thief.

Assaults

Five assaults were reported to police this week. Like last week, all of them involved family violence and all involved physical contact or injury to the victim. While this number is lower than in recent months, any assault on family is unacceptable.

  • An assault with bodily injury/family violence was reported March 5 in the 2400 block of Scott Drive.
  • An assault with bodily injury/family violence was reported March 7 in the 2100 block of East Business U.S. Highway 190.
  • An assault with bodily injury/family violence was reported March 8 in the 1200 block of East Business U.S. Highway 190.
  • An assault with bodily injury/family violence was reported March 9 in the 100 block of Northern Dove Lane.
  • An assault by contact/family violence was reported March 10 in the 300 block of Creek Street.

Theft/burglary

Twelve thefts/burglaries were reported this week.

This number has unfortunately defined the new normal in Cove.

  • A theft of linens was reported March 6 in the 1300 block of Georgetown Road.
  • The theft of a tablet from a vehicle was reported March 6 in the 500 block of West Washington Avenue. I’m betting the previous owner of this digital device wishes he had taken the device with him rather than leaving it unattended.
  • The theft of currency was reported March 7 in the 300 block of Judy Lane.
  • The theft of a PlayStation and game was reported March 8 in the 1200 block of East Business U.S. Highway 190.
  • The theft of a refrigerator was reported March 9 in the 100 block of Jason Drive. Someone must have observed a refrigerator being loaded into a truck in a residential area.
  • A theft of prescription drugs was reported March 10 in the 500 block of Meggs Street.
  • A burglary of a residence was reported March 10 in the 300 block of Bonnie Lane.
  • A theft of furniture, a TV set, clothing and jewelry was reported March 10 from a residence in the 300 block of North Drive.
  • A theft of electronics was reported March 11 in the 300 block of Constitution Drive.
  • The theft of a wallet and cash valued at $250 was reported March 11 in the 2700 block of East Business U.S. Highway 190.
  • A sign valued at $10 was reported March 12 in the 2800 block of West Business U.S. Highway 190.
  • The theft of a vehicle was reported March 12 in the 400 block of Creek Street. A 2005 Mazda valued at $5,000 was reported stolen.

Other crimes

Six separate crimes of fraudulent use/possession of identifying information were reported this week.

This crime is on an upward trend.

  • Fraudulent use/possession of identifying information was reported March 6 in the 1900 block of Cline Drive.
  • Fraudulent use/possession of identifying information was reported to police March 7.
  • Fraudulent use/possession of identifying information was reported March 7 in the 700 block of Constitution Drive.
  • Fraudulent use/possession of identifying information was reported March 7 in the 2900 block of Carrol Drive.
  • Fraudulent use/possession of identifying information was reported March 7 in the 900 block of Dryden Avenue.
  • Fraudulent use/possession of identifying information was reported March 7 in the 2000 block of Dennis Street.
  • An aggravated robbery was reported March 13 in the 200 block of West Business U.S. Highway 190.
  • The discharge of a firearm within city limits and assault by contact/family violence was reported March 7 in the 600 block of Sunset Lane.
  • Violation of a protective order was reported March 8 in the 1200 block of East Business U.S. Highway 190.
  • Possession of alcohol by a minor was reported March 9 in the 400 block of South 25th Street.
  • Forgery of a financial instrument was reported March 11 in the 700 block of West Avenue D.

John Vander Werff is a 30-year veteran of law enforcement and a Copperas Cove resident.​

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