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Personal documents rival loot on burglars’ to-get lists

Credit and Social Security cards, personal mail and bank stubs targeted by thieves

Posted: August 4, 2014 4:39 p.m.
Updated: August 4, 2014 4:39 p.m.

Burglars and thieves are finding a new treasure trove of loot in Santa Clarita Valley homes and cars, not hidden away in safes or shoeboxes, but rather in plain sight on desk tops or tucked away in desk drawers. That treasure is personal information.

Local sheriff’s deputies have filed more than a dozen burglary and petty theft reports in the last couple of months that list among the items stolen credit cards, Social Security cards, driver’s licences, passports, personal mail, banking stubs and, in one case, a parking pass peeled from the inside windshield of a car.

In mid-June, a Newhall woman parked her 2004 Ford Explorer in a parking lot on Via Canon in Canyon Country and, within the hour, thieves had peeled the parking sticker from the inside of the passenger windshield, according to a deputy who responded to the incident.

Value of the stolen parking pass? One dollar.

The real value in documents stolen from homes or cars, investigators say, is the access they give thieves to commit fraud — such as purchasing clothes with a credit card number lifted from a statement, or withdrawing cash from a bank account with a stolen account number.

“The bottom line is that these stolen documents, when they’re out there, they make stealing someone’s ID easy,” said Sgt. Gary Miller, who oversees the Burglary and Robbery unit at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station.

“I wish there was a magic pill that could stop this phenomenon,” he told The Signal Monday. “Unfortunately, there isn’t.”

On June 27, deputies responded to a report of a burglary that occurred on Bamboo Drive in Newhall.

The homeowner told them someone had entered his apartment somehow and had stolen a $1,000 laptop, an iPad valued at $550, an iPad Mini valued at $350 and his girlfriend’s passport.

Why the passport? Miller said it’s something that carries great value.

“There’s a market for fake passports,” he said. “So if a thief has a real one, that’s even more valuable. He just has to find someone who looks like you.”

In the Bamboo Drive break-in, thieves not only ransacked the couple’s apartment, they also took the mail.

“When (the girlfriend) returned home she saw that her tablet, passport and some of her mail were stolen,” the investigating deputy wrote, noting that burglars went through her dresser.

“All the drawers were all open and clothing was on the floor,” the deputy wrote. “I saw no signs of forced entry into victims’ home.”

Once thieves have access to a person’s identity by holding official documents, Miller said, they can use it to steal other items.

“Much of the stealing is done the same way you may have used your buddy’s ID to buy beer,” Miller said. “Thieves can use the information to purchase stuff online or over the phone.”

And, while there have been reports in the last month of thieves stealing only documents from cars and homes, Miller said it’s more common for thieves to take the documents while in the act of taking cash and valuables.

Stolen documents
Nevertheless, in June a woman who lives on Smyth Drive in Castaic filed a report with sheriff’s deputies that “persons unknown” stole her Social Security card from a dresser in her bedroom.

Earlier that same month, thieves reportedly stole a woman’s bank statements and related papers pertaining to her bank account.

The banking papers were the only items listed as stolen on the sheriff’s report.

And while this type of theft is rare, Miller noted thieves still prefer going through your trash to find documents containing important personal information.

“Sadly, that phenomenon is still really prevalent — that and stealing your mail,” he said. “But, going through your trash is an easier avenue because it draws less attention and is less suspicious.”

Car burglaries provide another opportunity for thieves to gather personal identity information.

On June 30, while a Valencia woman was on field trip with her church group, thieves got into her 2000 Honda Civic parked at the United Methodist Church and took her wallet containing $70, her insurance card, her registration card and driver’s licence.

“There were no signs of forced entry,” the deputy wrote in his report. “The victim discovered the loss when she returned to her church parking lot after a field trip to Buena Park.”

ID protection
Every Santa Clarita Valley resident should conceal his or her identity, lock doors to cars and homes and consider some of the identity protection services currently advertised, Miller said.

“My advice to family members and friends is to take advantage of some of these programs that lock your credit information,” he said. “They may not be perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt




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