Bowie police are confronting a rising trend of crimes targeting the elderly.
There were 64 reported cases of identity theft between January and October this year, compared to 33 in all of 2011, according to statistics compiled by the city police. The increase comes as overall cases of fraud in the city have risen to about 103 between January and October this year versus 87 in all of 2011.
Nationwide, identity theft incidents have increased, according to information from the Federal Trade Commission. In 2011, the FTC received 279,156 complaints of identity theft across the country — up from about 251,105 in 2010, according to an FTC report. About one-third of all those who reported identity theft in 2011 were 50 years old or older, a percentage equal to that in 2010 as well, according to FTC reports.
Maryland ranks ninth highest in the nation in terms of identity theft incidents, with about 4,980 complaints in 2011, according to the FTC report.
Why Maryland ranks high on the list is unclear, said Claudia Farrell, FTC spokeswoman.
“We don’t know,” she said. “It may be that they’re closer to Washington and more aware of reporting theft.”
While Bowie police are dealing with increased calls of identity theft, that doesn’t necessarily equate to crimes happening in the community, Bowie Police Chief John Nesky said.
Identity theft is reported to local police, but can originate from anywhere, said Jeff Karberg, administrator of the Maryland attorney general’s identity theft program.
“It can be strangers or it can be someone in your life or it can be someone in Africa doing it over the Internet or it can be someone down the street from you,” he said.
Ways of stealing a person’s private or financial information can run the gamut from stealing physical or electronic records to scams that involve contacting a person and asking them to divulge their information, officials said.
“Your identity can be comprised a number of different ways,” Nesky said. “Since they've been running cons and scams, seniors have always been a vulnerable population.”
Seniors tend to be a target for scam artists for various reasons, such as because they tend to be at home longer periods since they may not be working and are often willing to stay on the phone longer than younger people, Nesky said.
“They're a little more trusting than cynical younger folks,” he said. “They come from a different generation where a lot of this stuff didn't happen.”
As the crimes can come from across state lines and from across the world, it makes it difficult for local police to follow up on, Nesky said.
“It’s not necessarily something we can track down and close,” he said.
To combat identity theft, officials recommend residents be mindful of unexplained or unexpected charges on their financial accounts, Karberg said.
“Vigilance is really key,” he said. “The faster you catch it or the more aware you are of your accounts, the better able you are to deal with this.”
The potential of identity theft concerns Evelyn Wallace of Mitchellville, a retired national account manager for the U.S. Postal Service.
“There are so many [scams] out there,” she said. “Everything you see, you can’t take at face value.”
Similarly, her husband, Jerome Wallace, said online scams made him cautious about where he does business.
“It makes you reluctant to do a lot of things online,” said Jerome Wallace, a retired manager of postal operations with the U.S. Postal Service.
Bowie police can be reached regarding issues of identity theft on their non-emergency number, 301-352-1200. To reach the Maryland attorney general’s office’s identity theft unit, call 410-576-6491 or email the office at email@example.com.