Let's see that ID

Identity theft escalates in Coeur d'Alene and Idaho

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COEUR d'ALENE - Best check those bank statements again.

Complaints of identity theft jumped 20 percent in Coeur d'Alene last year, according to new numbers from the Federal Trade Commission.

The city is hardly alone. Complaints of fraudulent tax filings and hijacked credit accounts escalated last year across Idaho, too, as well as the rest of the nation.

"Nowhere in our society is absolutely safe, (not) a doctor's office or a clothing store or a bank or a hospital," said Det. Lt. Rob Turner with the Coeur d'Alene Police. "Someone may have access to your information."

The Lake City totaled 88 consumer complaints of identity theft in 2012, according to the FTC's Consumer Sentinel Network Report. That's up from the 60 tallied in 2011.

The state of Idaho likewise jumped to 905 identity theft complaints in 2012, a nearly 40 percent increase from the 658 complaints in 2011.

Turner acknowledged identity theft is a problem in the city, and one that's hard to guard against.

The department has seen a rise in information stolen for false tax filings, he said. Business employees have stolen information from customers, too, he said.

Usually the amount of money taken is small, "where it's not worth going after," Turner added.

"It's nothing like tens of thousands of dollars,"he said. "Criminals believe, 'If I do a bunch of these,' they're better off doing the smaller increments."

In many cases, it's hard to pinpoint how culprits nab information like Social Security numbers from other people, he said.

He has heard of information taken off computers when people use Wi-Fi at public places like a coffee shop, he said.

"I haven't seen it firsthand," Turner said. "There are so many ways."

Sometimes, it's simply family members taking advantage of their access to a loved one's important passwords and accounts, he added.

Bank CdA has mostly seen an increase in debit card fraud lately, said cashier Kim Nordstrom.

"It's random. It isn't daily or weekly," Nordstrom said of how often it occurs.

Protecting personal information and bank accounts can be tricky, she acknowledged.

Some banks offer identity theft insurance plans. Wells Fargo's plan, which costs up to $16 a month, offers daily credit monitoring and sends email alerts when changes appear in a person's credit report.

While Bank CdA doesn't offer an identity theft insurance, Nordstrom said the bank does have procedures in place to prevent fraud, like verifying the identity of individuals calling for information.

She recommended shopping on reliable websites, and paying through PayPal, instead of directly on a site.

"Be smart with your ID, any debit or credit cards. Keep them in your possession," Nordstrom added. "Don't loan your cards or pin numbers out. I've heard of people doing that, a friend needs money, 'Here, take my card.' That's not a good idea."

Identity theft is likely on the rise because it is becoming easier to do, Turner said.

"It's access to technology," he said.

Consumers increasingly make purchases and store information on computers, where information can be retrieved by those with the know-how, he pointed out.

And it's easier to get that knowledge, too.

"It's everywhere on the Internet. It will tell you how to commit these crimes," he said.

There were nearly 370,000 complaints nationwide of identity theft last year, up 30 percent from 2011, according to the FTC.

The FTC website has several recommendations for guarding against identity theft.

Like shredding documents with sensitive information before trashing them, and limiting information carried outside the home.

Mail should be retrieved immediately from the mailbox.

Don't give out personal or financial information over the phone, unless it's certain who is on the other line. Keep passwords for laptops, credit, bank and other accounts private.

Take care with sending personal information over a public wireless network. Check to see if the information will be protected by an encrypted website.

Also, don't overshare on social networking sites.

For more information, go to: www.consumer.ftc.gov.

Turner acknowledged that some can't afford precautions like identity theft insurance.

"It's difficult for them to do that, so they play off the odds, 'Am I going to get hit?'" he said. "The odds are, you probably will."

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