Poulsbo Police warn of rise in fraud scams

POULSBO — Victims don’t know that they’re victims until it’s too late but when it comes to identity theft and fraud there are simple steps that can make such illegal acts much tougher on crooks.

According to Poulsbo Police Officer Grant Romaine, the less information citizens have floating around in cyberspace or even their mail boxes and trash cans, the less likely they are to become a fraud statistic.

“Over the years it’s been increasing,” Romaine said. “But we’re trying to stop it before more people become victims.”

Identity fraud, which Romaine said can be used by criminals to avoid law enforcement or clear out a victim’s bank account, has become more prevalent in North Kitsap in recent years.

It’s the ease with which criminals can steal a person’s identity that has law enforcement officials fighting an uphill battle.

Bills being sent via the mailbox have all sorts of information a crook can use, including the person’s address, bank signature and possibly even an account number. Some checks also include Social Security and driver’s license numbers, Romaine pointed out, noting that citizens who have such bank notes should have that information removed.

“This can cause lots of problems for the victims and they have to pay hundreds sometimes even thousands of dollars to restore their good name,” he explained. “We’re just trying to get people to realize how easy it is to steal their identity.”

Romaine suggested that people have their names removed from mailing lists and ask their financial institutions not to send them courtesy checks, which promise easy money not just for bank clients, but for crook as well.

“Those are being stolen,” he said. “I’d say people should get away from leaving this kind of mail in their boxes as soon as possible.”

He also warned about Internet job searches that ask for information such as Social Security and bank account numbers so fraudulent companies can make “deposits” for their new workers. More often than not these transfers turn into withdrawals.

“You don’t know who’s on the other end of the line,” he said, adding that similar problems can occur when crooks get hold of an individual’s credit information and go on line for their own card.

“You won’t know about it until you get a bill in the mail and say, ‘All right, where did that come from?’” he remarked.

But Officer Romaine doesn’t just know about such problems because he works at the Poulsbo Police Department — he has also been a victim of fraud. So has his co-worker, Officer Shawn Ziemann who had a loan application process in Seattle take a fraudulent turn for the worse.

“We just want to prevent this from happening to others,” Romaine said, noting that properly disposing of sensitive information on paper is also a step in the right direction.

“If you have a fireplace — burn them,” Ziemann suggested.

Romaine also said that shredding documents instead of throwing them in the trash was a good idea.

“Shred them then burn them — you’re doubly safe,” Ziemann added.

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