In 2018, over 50 residents made a report of fraud to the Van Wert Police Department. Many fall victim through computer and data hacks. (Photo via Metro)
In 2018, over 50 residents made a report of fraud to the Van Wert Police Department. Many fall victim through computer and data hacks. (Photo via Metro)

VAN WERT – Millions of Americans are affected by identity theft and fraud year after year. In 2018, the Van Wert Police Department received around 50 fraud reports. According to Detective Sgt. Jeff Blackmore of the VWPD, many of these reports involved people who had their personal information stolen to open various accounts or make unauthorized online purchases.

“We take several reports a year from people who have had their personal information used to open cell phone accounts and credit card accounts or their banking account or credit card accounts are used to make unauthorized purchases,” said Blackmore. “It is very difficult to determine how the person’s information was obtained by the criminal, but most likely a lot are from data breaches.”

The most common ways identity is stolen is through data breaches, computer or email hacks, mail theft, by a friend or family member, or through phone scams.

“The phone scams we have had reported to us this past year are from people who are reporting they have received calls where the caller has identified themselves as being one of the following: Agent with the IRS, Publisher’s Clearing House, the Social Security Administration, and Law Enforcement member,” said Blackmore. “We have had several incidents this year of mail being stolen from mailboxes. We have also had incidents where extended family members have stolen personal information and opened or attempted to open credit card accounts.”

To avoid being the victim of fraud, Blackmore gives several suggestions.

Don’t give your personal information to anyone over the phone or by email or text,” he said. “If you feel the call is suspicious hang-up. If you feel the email is suspicious then delete it.”

Blackmore urges residents to hang up on “robo calls” - calls that are automated. He also suggested to make sure computers have a secure connection and to check credit reports regularly to make sure there is no unauthorized credit activity.

Over the past several weeks, The Times Bulletin has received calls from citizens who received an odd email from a sender that said they are one of our employees asking for payment. These emails are scams and are not from The Times Bulletin. Blackmore gave several tips on how to tell if an email is a scam.

“[If] there is poor grammar, spelling or sentence structure in the email [it is likely a scam],” he said. “A lot of the scam emails are generated in foreign countries or the email is drafted by someone who does not speak or speaks very little English.”

Other ways to identify scam emails include:

- An email or text is received from a person not known to you where you did not initiate the contact.

- Emails addressed to “valued customer” or lack of detail in the email about the sender or how to contact them.

- Emails asking for personal information or asking for the receiver to send money to cover expenses.

- Emails with an offer that is too good to be true.

- Emails which contain unrealistic threats.

- Emails that appear to be from a Government Agency such as the IRS or Social Security Administration. They will not initiate contact with you by email if they have a need to get in touch with you.

Blackmore suggests that those that receive such an email delete it and not respond. Do not open the email or any attachments as the email could be a phishing email or could contain a virus.

Phishing is the fraudulent practice of sending emails while posing as someone from a legitimate businesses or a reputable person in the community in order to lure individuals into providing sensitive data.

When a complaint is made to the VWPD of fraud, several steps are taken.

“We will do an offense report to document the incident for the person for them to forward to credit card companies, cell phone providers or banks to show that they were a victim of fraud,” said Blackmore. “The victims are given information on ID Fraud and are encouraged to do a credit check. The cyber nature of the majority of these reports makes the investigation of them extremely difficult and time consuming. The reports are reviewed and if it appears that the possibility exists of identifying a suspect an investigation is opened.”

Blackmore urges citizens to contact local law enforcement if they have questions or concerns about an email or if they think their identity has been stolen.