Shoppers beware: Holiday season brings out ID theft |

Shoppers beware: Holiday season brings out ID theft

Paul Shockley

Holiday shoppers should be wary of “Dumpster divers,” “skimmers” and “shoulder surfers” while searching for that perfect gift.

Not toys or holiday knickknacks, but various identification fraud techniques, some of which Craig police say are already established in the area.

They’re among low-tech I.D. fraud methods used by criminals against unsuspecting consumers, as law enforcement agencies nationwide try to stay on top of an increasing number of high-tech frauds.

Some existing computer software can print personal or payroll checks, which do clear banks, labeled with stolen personal information, state officials warn.

“Technology is outstripping law enforcement’s ability to keep up with the various types of I.D. scams out there,” said Jan Zavislan, deputy for consumer protection with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.

Low-tech frauds or thefts are common around the holiday shopping season.

Human nature and holiday cheer are factors, Zavislan said.

“People just generally feel good and are more careless about handling their purses and wallets,” he said.

Targeted consumers usually don’t know they have become victims until contacted by a collection agency, or are denied credit because of unpaid debts run up by criminals.

Simple steps like shredding credit cards and ATM receipts, while tearing up credit card offers, are often overlooked, Zavislan said.

Enter “Dumpster divers.”

“If you don’t tear it up, people will apply in your name and have it sent to a different address,” said John Forgay, lieutenant with the Craig Police Department, once a fraud investigator with the former Rocky Mountain Bank Card.

“There’s usually no way to trace it,” Forgay said.

Such dumpster-diving techniques are among the most common I.D. fraud techniques seen locally, he said, citing a recent possible victim.

“One man went to order a phone, and found out from the phone company that someone already had his name and social security number to establish a line somewhere else,” Forgay said.

While traveling, exercise caution when using a credit card to make a purchase.

Homemade “skimmers” collect and store numbers, which perpetrators use to make purchases, or sell to third parties, Forgay said.

The devices, these days coming as small as personal pagers, are most common among waiters, waitresses and clerks.

Law enforcement agencies in California and Florida have reported a surge in the thefts, Forgay said.

“If a clerk’s working on a skimmer, they’re not running it through the credit card reader first,” he said.

Be mindful of your surroundings when using telephone cards for “shoulder surfers,” Forgay added.

Zavislan, meanwhile, said don’t place outgoing mail in a mailbox unless it’s secure, and carefully review bank statements for unauthorized charges.

Any purchase made on the Internet should be done using a few guidelines.

“Always check out the site with the Better Business Bureau,” Zavislan said. “Read its privacy policy and find out its encryption policy. If they don’t have them, it’s not a good sign.”

Paul Shockley can be reached at 824-7031 to at

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