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Too good to be true

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By Rachel Johnson, Staff Writer

Don’t let a thief steal your identity or scam you out of money.

During the Brunswick County Community Watch’s March meeting on Monday, Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Bert Reaves with the crime prevention unit spoke about ways to prevent identity theft and scams as well as the importance of serial numbers.

The importance of writing down serial numbers is paramount in enabling police officers to locate stolen items. Reeves said a lot of people don’t think the serial number will help police recover their items, but he says this is a false belief.

“Write down serial numbers for anything of value with a serial number on it,” Reaves said. “Store them (serial numbers) in a safe place, not on the computer hard drive because if your computer is stolen, all of your numbers are also gone.”

He shared a story from his own experiences recovering stolen items. He said several years ago he took a report about a stolen children’s four-wheeler. The victim provided officers with the serial number.

Six months later as Reaves served papers in another neighborhood, he noticed a small four-wheeler. He ran the serial number on the four-wheeler and it came back stolen. He was able to recover the stolen property for the victim as a direct result of the victim recording the serial number.

“Especially with guns and electronics, write down the make, model and serial number—anything with a serial number listed,” Reaves said.

Serial numbers are entered into a national database, and items are often found in other states.

“Right now it seems like everybody is wanting something for free,” Reaves said. “According to the Attorney General’s office, in North Carolina more than 300,000 people are victimized by identity theft annually. North Carolina ranks 21st in the nation. It takes a victim an average of $500 to restore their good name and information after identity theft has occurred.”

Reaves offered some tips on how to avoid identity theft. He warned people to protect themselves by avoiding using easily available information for pin numbers. And be careful about writing down pin numbers on a piece of paper and keeping them in your purse or wallet.

“Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Leave it in a safe place,” Reaves said. “Only give out your Social Security number when absolutely necessary. If someone asks for your Social Security number, ask them why they need it. Don’t print your driver’s license number or Social Security number on your checks. This just makes it easier for a thief to obtain a false form of identification. Don’t make it easier for the person trying to commit identity theft.”

Reaves also advises that you destroy all documents containing your personal information by shredding it, to monitor your finances, limit the number of credit cards you carry and be on the lookout for missing bills and other mail.

Another issue of growing concern throughout the state involves scams of all types from lottery to construction. A recently reported scam across the state involves criminals who are staking out homes that appear to be occupied by someone who is handicapped. They knock on the door and a man says he is checking the water system. The homeowner is asked to turn on the water in the kitchen and in the bathroom. While they are completing this task, it is thought a second suspect enters the home and takes whatever items he decides to steal. Police believe there are at least two suspects working together on the water scam.

“Remember, if it is not somebody you have called to do business with, than it may be a scam,” Reaves said. “If you are having work done at your home, ask for the paperwork to make sure they are insured and bonded. It is so easy to make a business card and present yourself as a representative of a business.”

Recently in Brunswick County, the sheriff’s office responded to a pavement scam. Someone knocked on the victim’s door saying they had extra asphalt left over from a previous job and would pave their driveway area for only $500. They dumped asphalt on the driveway, creating a horrific situation that ended up costing the homeowner several thousand dollars to fix.

“People like that prey on elderly people and widows,” Reaves said. “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”

Recently a scam has hit local residents through the mailbox. A letter arrives stating you have won an international sweepstakes. Included with the letter is a check. The letter instructs the recipient to cash the check and mail $2,000 to an address to pay for taxes. One tip that this is a scam is that the letter, the check and the envelope contain differing addresses. Another is that when you truly win the lottery/sweepstakes, taxes are taken right off the top—you are not asked to mail a payment.

Another scam on residents of Brunswick County is coming via home telephone numbers. A caller is telling people they have won a million dollars and that the prize van is on its way to their home. The victim is told to give Western Union $1,000 in order for the van to arrive. Reaves said the caller is very aggressive and calls multiple times.

Members of the community watch mentioned a scam that recently affected a local resident. A caller found information about the victim’s family and called saying he was a police officer requesting bail money for a grandchild. The victim wired the requested money. The caller called back requesting additional funds to prevent a false car accident victim from suing the grandchild.

“If I can leave you with one thing, it is that if it’s too good to be true then it is,” Reaves said. “It happens every day. People will try to get into your account, and there are people out there that will try to scam you.”

The Brunswick County Community Watch meets on the last Monday of each month at 1 p.m. in Shallotte’s aldermen chambers. Each month officers from the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office crime prevention team attend and offer prevention information to group members.

April’s topics will include a presentation on Project Life Saver.

“We encourage you to tell your family members and neighbors about the program. It is for anyone who can wander away that is at home with a caregiver. It is helpful for anyone from the elderly to children with autism,” Reaves said.

The public is invited to attend the April meeting to learn more about Project Life Saver and to become involved with the community watch organization..