Organized crime rings are stealing people's identities all over the country, and police say some of those thieves are operating right here in the East.
New Bern police say they are seeing an increase in identity theft partly because of how easy it is to commit the crime.
"There are some people in New Bern getting their identities stolen, but mostly what we do see is individuals who are from other states whose identities or credit cards are used here locally," said New Bern police sergeant Chip Dombrowsky. The Federal Trade Commission says nine million people become identity theft victims every year.
Nancy McLendon is one of those victims. Someone stole her identity three times.
"This was about a thousand dollars in one case, just about $25 on another, and $100 on another," said McLendon, a New Bern visitor from Perry, Ga. "We don't know how it happened, how they got our number."
Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes. Dombrowsky says he's seen an upswing in recent months.
"There's definitely organized groups that engage in this activity. It's an easy crime for criminals to do," he said. One of the most popular ways to access your information? Thieves hack into a data storage facility, and then re-encode a gift or credit card with your stolen information.
"They can wipe a magnetic strip, the memory strip, off the credit card. And once they de-gauze that or wipe that memory off that credit card strip, they can re-program or re-encode another person's information or credit card number on the strip of any type credit card," said Dombrowsky.
Police arrested 38-year-old Percy Smith of Vanceboro last month for using a re-encoded card to buy more than $200 worth of cigarettes and several gift cards.
"You feel violated for sure, and you want to—you realize your identity is not really protected," said McLendon.
McLendon says she pays careful attention to her monthly credit card statements to make sure she's not a victim again.
Dombrowsky recommends checking those statements every week and getting a free credit report every year from any of the top three major credit bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax, or Experian.
Police say some retailers will ask you for the last three or four digits on the back of your credit card. That's to make sure your credit card number matches the information on the card's magnetic strip, and you're not using a stolen card.