WICHITA, Kansas (KSN) — Wichita police are on track this year to investigate 1,200 financial crimes, like identity theft. That’s 100 new cases a month; yet many people still think they won’t be a victim.
The head of WPD’s financial crimes section knows firsthand how vulnerable we all are to cyber criminals.
When Sgt. Santiago Hungria took over that unit in August 2014, Wichita’s City Hall had a data breach, exposing thousands of employees’ personal information to hackers, including his own.
“I had to contact the IRS, notifying them of a possible identity theft victim,” said Sgt. Hungria. “Shutting down bank accounts, opening new ones. It’s a lot of work, and it was no fault of mine.”
Then, months later…
“I could see someone’s used my debit card, or it’s been charged to my account like 5 different times,” said Hungria.
While cyber criminals may be impossible to stop, even by a man who knows their tricks better than anyone, Sgt. Hungria says there are three safeguards to keep you from being an easy target.
1. Pay with cash or credit cards whenever possible.
“A lot of my purchases I use my credit card so if I have any issues, I can dispute those with the company,” said Hungria. “It’s not affecting my personal finances with my checking account, like if you’re using a debit card.”
In those cases, he says many banks will freeze your accounts for a few days to a week to investigate, keeping even you away from your money.
If you must use a debit card, Hungria recommends going to an ATM you’re familiar with, and never let the card out of your sight.
“I see my friends using a debit card at restaurants, and I say, ‘Hey, that’s not a good idea.’ Any time you lose sight of your debit card and give it to someone else, you don’t know what they’re doing with it.”
Same story with checks. The account information on the front makes it easy to steal.
Hungria uses cashier’s checks issued by the bank, especially if he’s sending a payment through the mail.
2. Only use a secure mailbox. Either a post office box or one at your home that takes a key to unlock.
A traditional mailbox leaves your bills and letters open to thieves.
“Sometimes people are applying for credit cards that way,” warned Hungria. “Sometimes they’re paying bills with checks that way. That’s a lot of information right there. You’ve got a routing number, you’ve got an account number.”
So far this year, Wichita police have investigated more than 150 cases of mail theft.
3. Keep as few paper documents in your home as possible.
“There are times when people’s houses get broken into, and it doesn’t look like anything’s missing. But there could be documents, checkbooks, stuff like that, and that’s what causes more heartache than losing your 50-inch television.”
Sgt. Hungria has all his bills and statements emailed to him, and he scans important documents, storing them on flash drives or hard drives.
He recommends putting password protected encryption on your portable drives and keeping them hidden from sight, in case of a break-in.
If he sounds a bit paranoid, remember what he and his six detectives are up against.
“Essentially they’re getting a new case every single day,” said Hungria with a shrug.
His section solves about a fourth of all financial crimes so Sgt. Hungria emphasizes that your odds are better at prevention than prosecution.
FURTHER TIPS FOR YOUR SAFETY
- STORY | KSN looks into the best practices for password protection
- FTC | How to Keep Your Personal Information Secure
- FTC | Computer Security
- STORY | Protect yourself from ATM credit card skimmers
- TOOL | Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker
- ConsumerFinance.gov | Know Before You Owe (credit cards)