It's estimated that every month, 350 people in Houston report crimes that involve credit and debit cards. Houston City Councilwoman Brenda Stardig recently became a statistic.
"Someone has made checks on my account, and it's a frightening experience, and these are sophisticated thieves. We need to make sure that we are aware of our surroundings at all times and online activity, so that we don't make ourselves vulnerable, especially our seniors. Our senior citizens are a prime target."
Katherine Cabaniss, executive director of Crime Stoppers, addresses the media on Identity theft in Houston. On the far left, to her right is Bill Herrington, executive VP, Capitol One Bank. To her immediate left wearing glasses is George Buenik, Assistant Chief, Houston Police Department, Houston Council member Brenda Stardig, and Houston Council member Ed Gonzalez.
George Buenik is assistant chief with the Houston Police Department's criminal investigations command.
The Houston area generates 25-percent of all identity theft complaints in Texas. Buenik attributes that to more credit cards being issued and more people using the internet.
"Ten years ago, there weren't that many people utilizing the internet and electronic communications. Right now, you can do all your transactions over your iPhone or cell phone. It's a lot easier to do — if you know how to do that type of thing — to victimize people without directly confronting them, or sticking a gun in their face and taking their money."
Capitol One Bank is helping HPD and Crime Stoppers to show us how big the problem is. Executive VP Bill Herrington says bank customers need to be aware at all times.
"They need to be so vigilant with respecting and protecting the information on their accounts. Just carefully monitor your accounts, don't let anyone know your account numbers, your passwords, your pin numbers. Shred documents and monitor your accounts, that's the key."
PH: "Years ago, there used to be a real easy paper trail to follow. Nowadays, it's not."
Herrington: "You know, I find myself checking my online banking capital and online banking everyday, and I would encourage everyone to do that."
As part of the awareness campaign, Katherine Cabaniss, executive director of Crime Stoppers says they're featuring identity theft suspects who work' with accomplices, stealing wallets out of victims' purses at restaurants.
"The offender that we're profiling today is a woman who used a victim's identity to steal from a bank account. She went to a bank, she purported to be someone that she was not, she had that victim's identification information, and she was able to steal thousands of dollars. So, we're looking for this offender. If you have information about who she is, call Crime Stoppers at 713 222-TIPS."
Identity theft is a felony punishable by one to ten years in prison. You can find more information on how to protect yourself by to www.crime-stoppers.org.