U.S. postal inspector Joseph E. Wolf began his presentation at the April 30 meeting of the Upper Knoxville Block Watch by telling attendees they had each won $250,000 in a Canadian lottery, and all that was required to cash in was to wire $3,250 to a so-called tax agent.
The scam is an example of one kind of crime he investigates as a postal inspector in one of the oldest federal law enforcement agencies in the country.
Other crimes include distribution of child pornography, mail fraud, identity theft, money laundering, and assaults of postal employees.
The main focus of his talk was identity theft.
The meeting was preceded by a fellowship supper paid for by state Rep. Wayne Fontana.
Among the attendees were District 3 Councilman Bruce Kraus, and retired District Justice Anna Marie Scharding.
In his presentation, Mr. Wolf said Social Security numbers should never be given to strangers over the telephone, for thieves can use it to acquire other personal information about you, leading to identity theft.
Identity theft is the unauthorized acquisition of key pieces of a person's identity and personal information for unlawful purposes.
Thieves use that information to obtain credit, borrow money, charge merchandise, or conduct other business, even crimes, in your name.
Mr. Wolf said in 2008, the number of identity fraud victims increased 22 percent, while the number of security breaches rose 47 percent.
On average, it takes 155 days to detect new account fraud.
Besides posing as someone who legitimately needs information about you, identity thieves can learn personal information by: stealing wallets, purses, and mail containing bank and credit card statements and pre-approved credit offers; stealing information you provided to an unsecured Internet site; sorting through trash for personal data; or buying personal information from "inside" sources such as a store clerk with access to information on credit applications.
The top three things thieves then do with your identity is open new credit card accounts, get wireless services, and open bank accounts and loans.
Thieves have been known to steal pre-approved credit card forms from mailboxes, fill them out and return them, and then steal the cards from the mailboxes when they arrive. They'll use the cards, make the minimum payment, and when the card is "maxed out" at thousands of dollars, dump the card, leaving you with the debt.
Compounding the distress is that it can take years to clear your name.
One of the reasons the crime is flourishing is the absence of a strong penalty as compared to other kinds of thievery.
But Mr. Wolf said the judicial system is looking to enhance sentencing guidelines.
One of your best defenses is to never answer any questions over the phone, especially in regards to credit card or bank numbers, Social Security number, address, birth date, mother's maiden name, passwords, and more.
Shred your mail once you read it. Monitor your financial records as you receive them. Mr. Wolf recommended identity theft insurance if you conduct business on-line.
If you become a victim, file a police report; contact your banker; notify all institutions with whom you have a financial relationship; notify credit bureau fraud units; and follow-up contacts with letters, keeping copies of all correspondence.
You may also call the Federal Trade Commission's Identity Theft Hotline toll-free at 1-877-IDTHEFT.
In other news, block watch secretary Bobbie Gillenberger said Social Security beneficiaries will be receiving a check from the federal government for $250 by late May. They do not have to do anything to receive the money, such as completing a form.
Ms. Scharding, who moved to Baldwin after her retirement, said she misses her involvement with the community leaders and neighborhood residents, and her roots in Allentown and in the Hilltop communities.
She still attends Sunday Mass in her hometown St. John Vianney parish in Allentown.
Recalling the speaker, she stressed shredding anything you receive in the mail with your name and address as thieves can use it for their criminal purposes.
In neighborhood news, President Mary Ann Bennett read a list of 106 reported crimes in Knoxville from March. 1 to April 17.
They included: 3 aggravated assault, 1 accident, 9 burglary, 9 criminal mischief, 1 DOA, 14 drugs, 2 DUI, 2 false ID, 5 harassment, 3 hit-and-run, 3 ID theft, 17 incident, 1 PFA violation, 4 prostitution, 2 reckless endangerment of a person, 16 simple assault, 1 stolen vehicle, 2 tampering, 6 theft from person, 1 theft from residence, 3 unauthorized use of motor vehicle, and 1 vandalism.
The distribution of the 106 total reports in the areas covered by Knoxville's three block watches are: 31 reports, or 29 percent of crime stats, in Upper Knoxville; 48 reports, or 45 percent of crime stats, in the 30th Ward; and 27 reports, or 26 percent of crime stats, in McKinley.
Of the 31 reports in Upper Knoxville, the breakdown by blocks/streets is:
burglary (6): 100 block of Charles St. (1); 100 block of Jucunda St. (2); 300 block of Jucunda St. (1); 300 block of Rochelle St. (2).
criminal mischief (2): 100 block of Charles St.; 100 block of Orchard Place.
drugs (4): 200 block of Jucunda St.; 200 block of Charles St.; 100 block of Zara St. at Amanda Ave.; 200 block of Charles St. at Grimes Ave.
harassment (2): 100 block of Zara St.; 200 block of Rochelle St.
hit-and-run (2): 300 block of Jucunda St.; 100 block of Charles St.
ID theft (1): 100 block of Jucunda St.
incident (3): 100 block of Charles St.; 100 block of Rochelle St.; 200 block of Rochelle St.
prostitution (1): 400 block of Charles St.
REAP (reckless endangerment of a person (2): 300 block of Rochelle St.; Knox Ave. and 100 block of Charles St.
simple assault (5): 100 block of Charles St.; 100 block of Rentz Way; 300 block of Jucunda St.; 400 block of Rochelle St.; 80 block of Knox Ave.
theft from person (1): 100 block of Zara St.
theft from residence (1): 400 block of Charles St.
unauthorized use of motor vehicle (1): 200 block of Charles St.
The next block watch meeting will be in June, 2009.