Covina detective offers tips to prevent identity theft

Covina Police detective James Rochford believes everyone should play the skeptic.

Never give personal information over the phone unless the caller’s identity is verified, he said. This seems obvious, but the detective was stunned when he found how many people would hand over addresses and contacts to people they don’t know.

Rochford shared tips on how to prevent identity theft May 27 at Joslyn Senior Center in Covina. The presentation gave Rochford the chance to educate seniors on some quick tips to ensure the privacy of their personal information. One way to beef up security is for people to be 100 percent sure of who it is they’re speaking with on the phone or online.

The specialist said many people will simply take his word it over the phone when he identifies himself, without seeking any confirmation on his identity.

“It’s shocking how much information I as a detective get when I call them up and tell them ‘I’m a detective with the Covina Police Department,’” he said. “I’ll ask for personal information such as a name, address, phone number, driver’s license number. “It’s shocking how much information people will give the information over the telephone without verifying who I am.”

The detective works mainly in tracking down financial crimes with very little evidence. He enjoys sharing tips about financial safety. He said the more information people have, the more likely they will be able to prevent identity theft.

Some of the pointers he shares are simple things that can make a big difference.

“If we’re using the same password over and over it becomes that much easier for the suspect to gain access to our personally identifying information.”

People of all ages are susceptible to having their financial information and identity stolen, he said. But seniors are often at a bigger disadvantage because of their lack of technical knowledge. The presentation at the center, 815 N. Barranca Ave., was free to the seniors and sponsored by Inter Valley Health Plan.

Events like this are valuable to Covina citizens, according to Susie Perez, recreation coordinator at the site.

“We had about 20 seniors come out,” she said. “Any way we can advocate for our seniors and bring awareness to the community on elder abuse, fraud and things like that, is always beneficial to seniors and their families.”

The Covina Police Department takes fraud very seriously. However, the lofty number of identity theft cases reported in the area is nearly impossible to take on. To lighten this load, the department recently formed a volunteer group called CREDIT, Community Response to Eradicate and Deter Identity Theft.

The volunteers perform a basic follow up on identity theft, burglary and fraud cases that simply don’t have enough evidence to be assigned to a detective. This is a tremendous help to the department, said Sgt. Jim McDonough.

“This is really huge, because I may have 10 to 15 cases a week that go to this CREDIT team that wouldn’t normally get the attention because they’d be suspended or closed cases,” he said.

The 6-month-old program is also a good way to let the public know their reports aren’t being ignored or tossed out.

“It’s kind of good community relations tool because they’re actually reaching out and making contact with the victims.”

For more information on safety tips and local safety events, visit the Covina Police Department Web page and view the neighborhood safety watch newsletter.

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