Napa a hot spot for identity theft, federal report says

Napa a hot spot for identity theft, federal report says

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Napa County continues to rank among the national top hot spots for identity theft, according to a federal consumer protection agency.

Napa County ranked 42nd among 500 areas in the number of reported identity theft cases, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s 2010 report. The county also ranked 27th for all consumer fraud complaints, the FTC reported.

Napa County has previously ranked high nationally in the FTC’s annual reports.

Identity theft remains the top consumer complaint nationwide. In 2010, 19 percent of all 1.3 million complaints filed with the FTC were for identity theft. 

“It is a very serious crime. We do actively investigate those cases,” Napa Police Sgt. Pat Manzer said recently.

At the same time, he said, the department believes the reports on the number of ID theft and fraud cases may be duplicated. 

Napa County may be vulnerable for various reasons, including its high number of visitors. People may leave a wallet or a purse behind, for instance, creating a crime opportunity, Manzer said.

“I wouldn’t attribute it to one thing,” he said.

Between 2009 and 2010, 110 identity theft cases were reported to Napa police. Most of Napa’s identity theft cases were electronically based, police said.

Napa County Chief Deputy District Attorney Michael O’Reilly attributed much of the ID theft and other forms of fraud offenses in Napa to organized criminal enterprises.   

Nationally, the number of ID and fraud cases is underreported, an FTC spokeswoman said.  

Mike Prusinski, a spokesman for LifeLock, a company based in Phoenix that specializes in identity theft protection, also said the number of cases is underreported.

Generally speaking, states with high numbers of undocumented workers such as California and Arizona tend to have high numbers of reported identity theft cases, Prusinski said, as Social Security numbers are needed to get jobs.

He likened losing a Social Security number to criminals to having an incurable disease. “People use it over, over and over,” Prusinski said.

To prevent fraud, Prusinski urges everyone never to provide one’s Social Security number until convinced that it is necessary. People should strongly question why a business or other organization requires a Social Security number. 

“You’d be surprised how many won’t ask,” he said, adding people should also ask how the data are stored.

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