Increased awareness to prevent costly identity thefts was emphasized twice for a West Kendall audience at the Miami-Dade Police Hammocks District Citizens Advisory Committee meeting on Mar. 27.
Named Officer of the Month for March, Det. Otto Ablanedo described the meticulous research that eventually caught two ID thieves targeting purses in unlocked cars, parked for morning dropoffs of youngsters at area day care centers and schools.
For three months during 2012, Det. Ablanedo tracked a pattern of ID thefts, leading to arrest of the male pair who cashed in credit and debit cards left in unguarded purses and wallets while the driver led a youngster into a day care center or area school.
“They were after stealing identities, not money, as their priority,” said Det. Ablanedo who tracked one suspect to a Hialeah motel through a rental car license plate identity, following a vehicle burglary at Kiddie College, 13291 SW 42 St.
The two thieves used female companions who sat in their car to help them disguise their appearances at schools and day care establishments.
With twin arrests, $50,000 worth of stolen property and a Glock handgun were recovered, ending a series of ID thefts stretching from Broward to West Dade.
“Snatch and grab criminals no longer want cash. They’re after your identity on plastic to access your bank account and make potential hauls in the thousands,” said Kevin D. Gilpin, executive director of the National Crime Stop Program, to Citizens Advisory Committee members after the presentation to Det. Ablanedo.
Warning against “using debit cards,” Gilpin said “once the skimmers have that detail, they can make direct draws on your checking account and even drain saving accounts with inter-related account data, without your knowledge or protection.
“Credit card issuers, unlike banks, carry a 60-day protection for you as soon as you report a theft but thieves can easily empty your bank accounts with debit cards in less than a day,” he advised.
“The worst time to use a debit card is in a restaurant,” he added. “It only takes seconds to skim a card when a server leaves with your bill and card. When paying a tab, I follow the card to the cash register in person. Never let that debit card out of your sight.”
Gilpin, who began funding the Crime Stop program in 1985, conducts workshops and seminars throughout Florida on crime prevention and public safety training.
“To best guard against ID theft, use cash for regular purchases or online with a service like PayPal,” he advised.
“To pay bills, use your local bank’s automatic pay program that avoids a potential loss from debit card theft. Those payments use the bank’s money — not your account money — to pay a creditor.”