When 72-year-old Cathryn Parker was finally arrested for identity theft earlier this year, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was stunned to find that she had spent five years living under at least 74 aliases.
Parker was arrested in March after giving a deputy a false name when she was pulled over for a traffic violation. The incident led to a chain reaction in which it was discovered that Parker had used a number of different fake names to rent her home, pay utilities and acquire credit cards.
Parker lived in the Hollywood area and targeted individuals who worked in the entertainment industry, such as grips and production staff, but it is unknown how she accessed their information.
“It’s like a way of life. I don’t know that there was an end,” Detective Danny Gore said of Parker. “You have to be dedicated. You and I go to work in the morning and spend eight, 10 or 12 hours. I guess if you’re in the identity theft business and it’s your job, in a sense she went to work.”
Identity theft is like a germ — you can’t avoid the risk entirely, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stay vigilant and take precautions. Here are a few tips to help you protect yourself against identity theft:
- Keep sensitive personal documents secure: Whether you store your documents in paper form or on the computer, it’s important to keep them safe. Paper documents should be kept in a safety deposit box. If you store information on your computer be sure to install a firewall, and use anti-virus and anti-spyware software. Always keep your internet browser up-to-date and only use secure wireless networks to log in to online accounts with sensitive information.
- Create strong passwords: All of your online accounts should have a different, strong password. Avoid using personal information (such as age, birthday or your pet’s name) in your password, and skip common and easy-to-guess words. Safer passwords will be complex, random and unique. A good tip is to use a phrase comprised of random words, or to mix words to create a password. For example, “Seth Puppies 1/15/73” could create “Se115Pup.”
- Watch what you share: Identity thieves spend a lot of time going through public social media profiles for sensitive information that can be used to steal identities. Never post data online that could be used to identify you, such as your address, phone number, Social Security number (SSN) or birth date. Especially be wary of emails from “official” institutions asking you to send them information like your SSN or credit card number. Before complying with any requests contact the business directly to ask if they solicit personal information via email.
Another good tip is to sign up for a credit monitoring service that can notify you of certain kinds of activity in your credit files that may indicate fraud.
Following these simple steps could help save you a lot of hassle and work in the long run.