SMART WAYS TO GUARD ID
A.D.A. Offers Protection Tips In Glendale
Combating identity theft and financial fraud were hot topics during a joint meeting of the Glendale Property Owners Association (GPOA) and the 104th Precinct Civilian Observation Patrol (104COP) last Thursday, Sept. 8, as a member of the Queens District Attorney’s office offered advice to residents on ways they can protect themselves.
Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Scharf of the Economic Crimes Bureau came to the joint meeting at St. Pancras School Pfeifer Hall to discuss the office’s efforts to combat fraud and to educate the public on what they can do to safeguard their financial and personal information from scammers.
“Statistics have shown as of late that identity theft is a battle that one may not be able to win, but we can still fight and fight smart,” he said. Scharf stressed that residents should exercise great caution in disclosing their personal information to anyone. “You’ve got to be smart when using your personal information. Know where you’re using it or who has your info,” he added.
Any receipts, bank statements or other papers containing a person’s name, address, phone number, Social Security number, credit card number or similar information should be shredded before being thrown in the trash, Scharf stated. Crooks have been known to go through trash and, upon finding papers with such personal information, use it to fraudulently obtain credit cards and make unlawful purchases.
Modern technology has also been used by thieves to retrieve personal information directly from credit and debit cards used by shoppers. Some bandits have placed “skimmers” inside registers or ATMs at stores to pick up information from magnetic stripes on the cards as customers or cashiers swipe them through the machines.
The assistant district attorney advised residents to consider registering in identity protection programs operated by their credit card carriers. Under these programs, card companies will notify a customer by phone, e-mail or text message if they observe excessive spending on a credit card that may seem out of the ordinary.
Scharf urged anyone who believes that they are victims of identity theft should report it to police immediately and to work with their financial carriers to stop further action on their accounts. He also cautioned residents to also beware of phone scammers who may call claiming to be from a government agency or a bank seeking someone’s personal information.
“If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right,” he said, noting that residents should never disclose any personal information over the phone to individuals who unexpectedly call. Residents should initiate their own contact with banks or government agencies, he added.
Scharf stated that the Economic Crimes Bureau has “had incredible success” in busting identity theft rings which have victimized residents around the borough. Various techniques, including court-authorized wiretaps, are used to track down suspected hackers and schemers.
“We’ve actually heard them brag about covering their tracks and avoiding wiretaps” while law enforcement agents have had active wiretaps unbeknownst to suspects, he added. He went on to note that the Queens District Attorney’s office also has a good working relationship with auditors at various financial institutions which notifies prosecutors of suspected fraud cases “almost as it happens.”
Judges have also thrown the book against individuals convicted of multiple identity theft or grand larceny charges by imposing lengthy prison sentences, Scharf added.
Turning to mortgage fraud, the assistant prosecutor stated that the most common type of scam involves individuals victimizing homeowners who are in foreclosure or falling behind on their payments. In the scam, he explained, the suspect offers to buy their home (thereby satisfying the outstanding loan) and letting the residents continue to live there for a nominal rent until they are ready to repurchase their residence.
In truth, Scharf noted, the suspect acquires the property from the troubled homeowner through deed transfer, and the outstanding mortgage remains unsatisfied and in the victims’ name.
Before signing off on any deal, Scharf stressed, have a qualified real estate attorney look over all contracts and documents. He also urged property owners to check their deed and other property records found online through the Automated City Register Information System (ACRIS), available at www.nyc.gov, to be certain that all information is correct.
“Never sign anything that you don’t know what you’re signing for,” he added.
Grand larcenies and identity theft are prevalent around the 104th Precinct, added Capt. John Travaglia, executive officer of the 104th Precinct. Though overall crime remains low across the command, grand larceny is the sole major crime category that has increased year-todate.
Most of the incidents have involved the theft of property such as laptops or pocketbooks left unattended in public locations or inside parked vehicles, Travaglia noted. He urged residents never to leave any property unguarded and to keep items at home or locked away in an car out of view.
“It’s something we should always be conscious about,” he said. “This presents an opportunity for the wrong person.
Thanks for hurricane help
Captain Travaglia joined State Sen. Joseph Addabbo, Assemblyman Mike Miller and City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley in thanking 104COP, the Glendale Volunteer Ambulance Corps (GVAC) and their volunteers for their efforts to keep local streets safe during Hurricane Irene.
“We were lucky to have” both groups respond to the storm, Miller said. “They were out in the wind, in the rain trying to make sure the streets were safe. They called in problems as they happened so they were taken care of quickly.”
Frank Kotnik and Ryan Gunning— the presidents of 104COP and GVAC, respectively—received City Council and Assembly citations from Crowley and Miller, as did volunteers Vincent Alberici, Steven Albright, Board 5 Chairperson Vincent Arcuri, Kurt Burger, Piotr Czekan, Melissa Graziano, Samantha Gunning, Ray Hartman, Robert Kraker, Chris Landano, Wayne Murphy, Jim Richards, Tom Silvestri and Dieter Vey.
Legislators make reports
Beyond last month’s storm, Miller called for more local residents to volunteer with local civic groups to help keep Glendale clean. He noted that the office is continuing to recruit local businesses to take part in the “Adopt-a-Basket” program, in which business owners agree to empty out and replace bags in public waste baskets nearby.
Addabbo noted that state lawmakers will soon be returning to Albany to consider plans to redistrict state and federal legislative districts for 2012 based on the results of the 2010 Census. He backed an independent process in which new district lines are drawn to allow for fair elections next November.
With talk of moving up next year’s primaries to April, Addabbo noted that a redistricting plan must be passed quickly: “We have a short window of time to do this so we don’t have districts that look like Abraham Lincoln riding a horse upside down.”
Crowley noted that, despite difficult fiscal times in the city, she secured more than $5 million in funding to support capital improvements in the 30th Council District (which includes Glendale, Ridgewood, Maspeth, Middle Village and parts of Woodhaven and Richmond Hill). The bulk of the funding, she said, would go toward improvements at local public schools, Forest and Evergreen parks and the Glendale Library.
After parts of Glendale and Middle Village experienced power outages during Hurricane Irene, Crowley noted that she has introduced a bill in the City Council which would require Con Edison to replace all overhead utility lines with underground cables. She noted that there are a number of “legalities” which have to be worked out on the legislation in order for it to pass.
Crowley observed that “it doesn’t take a tropical storm” for power outages to occur in Glendale and Middle Village, noting that some parts of both neighborhoods have experienced blackouts during severe storms.
Brian Dooley, GPOA president, noted that the civic group has invited the new owners and operators of The Shops at Atlas Park, Macerich, to a future meeting to discuss ongoing changes to the shopping center. With Borders book store closing down, he said, he hoped that management would replace it with a business that can “bridge the gap.”
The next Glendale Property Owners Association meeting is scheduled to take place on Thursday night, Oct. 6, at 7:30 p.m., and the next 104th Precinct Civilian Observation Patrol meeting will take place the following Thursday, Oct. 13, at 8 p.m. Both will meet at St. Pancras School’s Pfeifer Hall, located off the corner of Myrtle Avenue and 68th Street.
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