November 12, 2014

Car prowlers turn identity thieves: 4 tips in protecting yourself

This month prosecutors charged three prolific car prowlers in King County, WA with four counts of identity theft. The trio are suspected of being behind a rash of car break-ins near parks over the past four months. It is not uncommon for vehicle break-ins to lead to other crimes such as fraud and identity theft.

In case you think this may be an isolated incident, here are two other recent examples. A woman recently arrested is suspected of being behind a six month car prowling spree in North Spokane, WA. This little spree netted her over 20 theft-related charges, which includes 13 charges of second degree identity theft. Across the Washington State border into Idaho,  members of the 'Felony Lane' gang were caught trying to cash fraudulent checks using identification documents stolen from vehicles in the local area. 


What are the thieves going after?

Typically they look for unattended backpacks, wallets, purses and any documents left in parked cars.  They are after any sensitive information they could use to steal somebody's identity to open lines of credit and obtain quick cash before being discovered. The aftermath can take an identity theft victims years to clean up and recover from. While high-tech cyber-heist reports surrounding identity theft garner media attention, successful identity thieves often resort to low-tech means such as vehicle break-ins.

What can you do to reduce your risk of becoming a victim of a car prowler-identity thief? Fortunately there are simple security tips you can use to protect yourself.

Four Tips to Protect Yourself.

-Don't use your car as a storage area. Cars are meant to be driven, not to be used as storage units. Take all valuables, to include paperwork with sensitive personal information, out of your vehicle when you park. 

-Don't leave items in plain view. If you do opt to store items in your vehicle, do not leave them in plain view. Stow them under the seat or in the trunk. This goes for empty backpacks, luggage, or anything that may appear to contain valuables. Most crimes like this are crimes of opportunity, and the criminals are only going to hit where they think they can score a pay off. By removing the temptation, you decrease the likelihood of your car being burglarized. It is best to hide these items prior to parking, since many car prowlers watch parking lots for potential victims.

-Lock your car. This tip seems rather simple, but I cannot tell you how many reports I've read where the thief broke into an unlocked car. This only begs the question, is it really considered breaking an entry if the entry was not locked? Locking and securing your car includes rolling your windows all the way up. Do not make it easy for them; take the extra few seconds to make sure your car is locked. 

-Be visible. Criminals will strike when they think the risk of getting caught is low. Park in areas where it is hard for them to hide such as in well lit, high pedestrian traffic areas. When possible use secure garages. Avoid parking on isolated streets.

If possible, you could try going with the Trunk Monkey anti-auto theft system.
(Note: This is my poor attempt at humor. The Trunk Monkey does not actually exist.)

References:
Brown, E., Effron, L, and Karlinsky, N. (23 October 2014). How to get away with identity theft. ABC News. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/US/identity-theft/story?id=26385485 

KREM (26 October 2014). Woman arrested for rash of N. Spokane vehicle break-ins. KREM 2 CBS News. Spokane, WA. Retrieved from http://www.krem.com/story/news/local/spokane-county/2014/10/28/woman-arrested-for-rash-of-n-spokane-vehicle-prowling/18076669/ 

Pulkkinen, L. (9 November 2014). Prosecutor: Car-prowling trio hit dozens of cars at Seattle-area parks. Seattle PI, Seattle, WA. Retreived from http://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/Prosecutor-Car-prowling-trio-hit-dozens-of-cars-5881836.php#page-2 

Sowell, J. (24 October 2014). 'Felony lane' gang of thieves strikes in Boise. Idaho Statesman. Retrieved from http://www.idahostatesman.com/2014/10/24/3446508_florida-identity-thieves-strike.html?rh=1 

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