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Holiday shoppers are urged to think before they swipe

POULSBO — The after-Thanksgiving and pre-Christmas shopping rush is almost upon us.

But there’s one surprise Poulsbo Police Department Detective Grant Romaine hopes won’t be under any local trees this year.

Identity theft.

This holiday, Romaine and many local law enforcement are stepping up their efforts to help consumers protect themselves. A town hall-style meeting from 6-8 p.m. Dec. 6 at the North Kitsap Community Auditorium will give the community a chance to learn about identity theft. Romaine said he hopes residents will attend to learn how they can protect themselves from a crime that’s ever changing but can be devastating — sometimes taking up to 500 hours and $2,000-$3,000 to remedy.

“It’s one of the worst things you can have happen to you,” Romaine commented. “Someone has taken your name and everything about you and they’re using it against you.”

For the first time in three years, consumer spending is expected to be up this holiday season. The American Research Group reports that the average shopper is planning to spend about $1,000 on Christmas gifts this year, up 3 percent from last year.

And where there’s money being spent, there are criminals looking to get a piece. Romaine explained that a number of crimes — robberies and vehicle break-ins to name a few — rise significantly this time of year. So does identity theft, which accounts for about 22 percent of the Poulsbo cases the detective deals with each year.

“The thieves are always keeping us busy,” Romaine commented. “Just as we figure out ways to counter them, they come up with new ways to steal.”

Romaine said one of the newest identity theft scams this year has to do with the electronic screens that many stores now use for credit card purchases.

Instead of signing on a piece of paper, the customer signs the screen with a magnetized pen for easier transfer of information. The problem, Romaine explained, is that anyone with access to that store’s computer system now has access to that signature.

Already, one Poulsbo resident has been ripped off this way but Romaine said the solution is easy.

“Just say, ‘I’d like to sign on paper,’” he offered.

Other tips to prevent identity theft include:

• When using a credit or debit card, ensure it’s always within your view.

• Do not have your phone number, driver’s license number or social security number printed on your checks.

• If you use your credit card online, be sure it’s with a reputable company and make sure the locked padlock encryption icon is on your screen before sharing information.

• Check all credit card receipts before discarding to make sure they do not list your entire credit card number.

• Use a shredder, preferably cross-cut, and shred everything, not just things with your name.

• If you are a victim of identity theft, immediately report it to the police, four major credit bureaus, Federal Trade Commission and all of your credit card and banking companies.

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