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Palmdale Fights Identity Theft with Community Education

The City of Palmdale won an Award for Excellence in the Public Safety category of the 2007 Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program. For more information, visit www.cacities.org/helenputnam.

Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the nation. In 2003, approximately 7 million people had their identities stolen and used fraudulently. Alarmed by these statistics, the City of Palmdale implemented an Identity Theft Community Education Program in 2004. The program uses a three-pronged approach that targets consumers, the business sector and law enforcement.

Educating Consumers

To educate consumers, Palmdale developed a free series of six fraud presentations. Each two-hour presentation focuses on a different topic and features speakers from various organizations and agencies. The goal is to give consumers all the tools, resources and information they need to reduce their chances of becoming a victim, which includes educating them on how criminals obtain and use such information and what to do if they become a victim of fraud. The six presentations cover:

1. Identity Theft - Keep Your Good Name Under Lock and Key. This presentation covers how criminals get and use personal information, how to monitor your personal information, and the proper steps to take if your identity is stolen. Presenters include city public safety staff, representatives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Southern California High-Tech Crimes Task Force and the Palmdale Sheriff’s Station.

2. Computer Phishing and Pharming - Don’t Take the Bait. This presentation addresses fake e-mails looking for personal information, hijacked websites, adware, spyware and simple ways to protect computers. Speakers include city public safety staff and the network manager for the city’s information services contract provider.

3. Scams, Schemes and Cons - Which One Will You Fall For? This seminar covers scams that deceive people and take their money, such as the sweet heart swindle, pigeon drop, Ponzi scheme, foreign lottery and Nigerian letter scam. Attendees learn how to spot these scams and say no. Present ers include city public safety staff and a representative from the United States Postal Inspection Service.

4. Real Estate Fraud - Do You Know What Property You Own? This seminar focuses on the many different ways criminals con people out of their own property, and fraudulent refinancing and loan scams. Speakers include city public safety staff and a representative from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Depart ment Real Estate Fraud Task Force.

5. Seniors Against Investment Fraud (SAIF). This seminar educates consumers age 50 and older about invest ment fraud and covers topics including living trusts, securities, estate planning, affinity fraud and retirement planning. The presenter is from the California Department of Corporations.

6. Troops Against Predatory Scams (TAPS). Presented at Edwards Air Force Base, this seminar covers the many different scams that target military members and their families. The speaker is from the California Department of Corporations.

Tackling Merchant Fraud

To help educate business owners and employees, the city developed a merchant fraud program. It covers how to detect counterfeit currency, credit card fraud, check fraud and false identification documents. Attendees learn about security features, how counterfeits are made, passing techniques used by criminals, and what to do when a counterfeit is detected. The session also highlights UV technology and how it can help businesses detect fraud. The goal is to give businesses the tools and skills needed to effectively wipe out fraud in their business, prevent identity theft and protect their bottom line, their customers and the city’s tax base.

New Tools for Law Enforcement

To help provide quality, up-to-date education for patrol and investigative personnel, the city developed an Identity Theft Summit for law enforcement only. During the past two years, these summits have covered identity theft investigative techniques and tools, the correlation be tween methamphetamine use and identity theft, vehicle theft via identity theft, UV technology, merchant acquirers, computer phishing techniques, prosecution techniques, suspect interview and deception detecting, and organized retail crime. During these sessions, law enforcement personnel are provided with investigative equipment including handheld UV scanners, magnifying loops, sample credit cards and numerous resources. The goal is to provide law enforcement personnel with information from experts in the field to assist them in their investigations and case filings. Additionally, the summits provided supplemental training to Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST)-certified courses on current and relevant topics.

Positive Response

The Identity Theft Community Educa tion Program’s success is reflected in the overwhelming support and positive feedback Palmdale has received from the community and its partner agencies.

The program has produced a greater awareness of the problem throughout the community, whose residents and businesses are now more likely to recognize and report fraudulent activity. City staff now receives phone calls nearly every day about possible fraud in the area. The public safety staff has become known as the "fraud experts" and receives referrals from many community organizations. Other agencies are also expressing interest in replicating the program.

Contact: Kelly Long, community safety supervisor, City of Palmdale; phone: (661) 267-5172; e-mail: klong@cityofpalmdale.org.