Police want merchants’ help against ID theft|[10/06/05]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 6, 2005

More than 200 cases of credit card fraud and check forgeries this year in Vicksburg have resulted in &#8221hundreds of thousands of dollars“ in consumer financial loss, in part because retailers are not taking steps to minimize the crimes, Vicksburg Police Lt. Billy Brown said.

&#8221Merchants need to ask for photo ID,“ he said. &#8221And if you are a legitimate consumer, you are not going to be upset about being asked to show ID.“

Brown and Capt. Mark Culbertson said they are often frustrated by what they called laziness on retailers’ part to verify identities, costing taxpayer dollars on investigations.

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&#8221It would be good if we could just impress upon these Vicksburg merchants how important it is to check ID,“ Brown said. &#8221It costs taxpayers money when fraud is committed. So much of this could be prevented by the stores.“

Culbertson said that while retailers are not completely at fault, they could do better in preventing fraud and forgery.

&#8221A lot of the stores have the necessary steps in place to stop it, but they do it blindly,“ he said.

For example, Culbertson said, it should be obvious to retailers that fraud or forgery is being committed when identifying information is conflicting.

&#8221If you are a criminal and you try to pass a check with someone else’s name on it, and you misspell the name or try to change something on the check, that should be easy to catch,“ Culbertson said. &#8221But stores don’t always catch it. It’s very frustrating to law enforcement when that happens because it is so easy to prevent.“

Brown said consumers often do not realize they have been victimized by fraud or forgery until they view their financial statements once a month.

&#8221If people are like me, they don’t always keep up with stuff like that,“ he said. &#8221So they don’t know something has happened until they get their bank or credit card statement in the mail.“

At that point, Brown said, the damage has been done and many banks and credit card companies can do little to help.

&#8221If you get your credit tainted, it’s hard to get it straightened out.“

But Culbertson said card issuers and banks could better protect consumers against identity theft by cooperating fully with law-enforcement officials during investigations.

&#8221Our problem police-wise is that we have privacy issues with these companies,“ he said. &#8221We understand those concerns, but there ought to be a way to streamline communication. We usually have to get a court order to get personal information. There needs to be a cohesive effort between law enforcement and public sectors.“

Brown said of the more than 200 cases of fraud and forgery the Vicksburg Police Department has investigated this year, the figures include misdemeanors and felonies. On some cases, he said, credit cards or checks are used several times before suspects are caught.

Information on avoiding identity theft can be found on the Internet at www.bbbonline.org/idtheft/index.asp.