A friend bought a bowl of noodles at a scruffy Beijing teahouse last month. When his credit-card bill came, the charge for that snack was $700. Another friend found out this week that all year, someone in Philadelphia has been racking up cell-phone bills, pretending to be her. Right now — yoink! — some of us are being robbed, yet we don't feel a thing. That baby in that bassinet is being robbed, but she won't know it until she's twenty and trying to buy her first car. Identity theft is a looming specter, vaguely defined until it strikes you. And with fifteen million Americans robbed of their identities every year, it's this country's most common. Strangers, acquaintances, and kin prey on each other, mercilessly.
"Shred anything with personal information on it," warns Scott Mitic, CEO of Redwood City-based Trusted ID, one of many companies in the burgeoning ID-theft-prevention business sector. "Don't put mail in your mailbox for pickup." Also: Never carry anything bearing your Social Security number; keep your Social Security card in a safe-deposit box; and shun mailing lists as if they were anthrax: "Don't provide your personal information to anyone who doesn't need to know," Mitic says, and avoid public Internet use, as "shoulder surfers" steal ID by peering over users' shoulders at libraries, offices, airports, riding BART. Heading out on a summer vacation? Bring just one credit card and one picture ID, Mitic warns, but no checkbooks or debit cards, as access to debit cards grants access to bank accounts. "Pay all bills before you leave," he adds. "Don't try to pay them on the road. And use your in-room safe rather than the hotel safe, as only you will know the password."
Find out if you're already a victim by checking your credit report at least once a year, he advises. If unfamiliar accounts or charges appear, "you might have an issue."
Catching and convicting the perps "is a complicated and time-consuming effort for law enforcement," Mitic laments. "They are understaffed and overwhelmed, which leads to low conviction rates. Even then, the penalties are light."
Berkeley's Bike-Riding Bandits
Maintaining teensy carbon footprints, they rob and terrorize and flee in a flash! According to Berkeley police reports, five bike-riding African-American teens pushed a pedestrian to the ground on King Street on July 7, stealing credit cards and a BART ticket. That night, four to six African-American juveniles attempted a strong-arm robbery on Otis Street; their leader rode a bike. Also that night, an African-American gunman with orange-tipped ear-length dreads, riding a yellow BMX bike, robbed someone on Sacramento Street. Later, four bike-riding African-American juveniles mugged someone on Fairview Street; a neighborhood-watch posting adds these details: "The youths ... followed him on their bicycles and then surrounded him. ... He was grabbed by the throat and pinned to the hood of a car. His wallet and backpack were taken. ... The four youths fled south on King. ... They were wearing dark clothing with hooded sweatshirts. One of the bicycles was taxi-cab yellow; another was green, and a third one was black."
Literally Taking Cuts
On July 6, a woman with a cut on her arm arrived at Alta Bates Hospital, where — according to a BART police report — she told staff that another woman had dealt her the injury outside the Fruitvale station. The patient said she had been waiting for a bus when the stranger accused her "of cutting in front of her in line. The victim ignored the suspect, but when she boarded the bus, she noticed that she had a deep cut on her arm. The victim continued on her bus ride and sought medical attention."
Tip-jar thieves victimize workers earning hourly wages. One snatched the whole jar, containing $50, from Peet's on Solano on July 7, according to the Berkeley police log, which also states that the thief who nabbed $30 that day from Bobby G's pizzeria in downtown Berkeley had gold teeth. Smile pretty on your way to Hell.
What's Worse Karma Than Robbing Tip Jars?
Hmm, let's see — how about doing several hundred dollars' worth of damage to Martin Luther King Middle School's fruit-and-vegetable garden? On June 30, numerous plants were uprooted from the famed "Edible Garden" — a project spearheaded by Chez Panisse founder Alice Waters — and "the irrigation system was cut in several places," says Berkeley Police Department Officer Andrew Frankel: "Vandalism is always malicious." Hoses were slashed. And garlic, of all things, was stolen. So at least we can exclude vampires from the pool of possible suspects.
What's Worse Karma Than That?
Well ... according to the Kensington police log for June 6: "At 1201 hours, Officer Barrow responded to a report of theft. ... A Quan Yin statue (known as the goddess of compassion or 'The one who hears the cries of the world') was stolen from the front yard of a residence."
Let Me Take You Down
Life in Brentwood is like a line from "Strawberry Fields." According to the police log, on June 28, someone "threw a lemon through a window" of a house on Sunflower Lane. Get the marshmallow pies! Three days later, life there was more like a Three Stooges episode, as a worried citizen reported "seven juveniles throwing paint and white powder in the air."
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