MARSHALL - When Ordell Severson of Minneota got a call from a recorded message offering him a chance to lower his credit card interest rates, he didn't think anything of it at first.
The recording asked him to press a button to get a live person, who asked him for his credit card numbers. After about four days Severson grew suspicious and called the credit card company.
"They said it's very common and they usually charge a fee, but it's nothing you couldn't do for yourself," Severson said. "But they never said anything about a fee."
Marshall Police Det. Joe Krogman said it was likely one of a number of barely legal businesses.
"But it could be a scam to get your credit card number," Krogman said.
Just to be on the safe side, Severson changed his credit card number.
April 22 to 28 is National Crime Victims Week, and this year the Minnesota Department of Public Safety is highlighting identity theft.
Identity theft is defined as when someone uses another person's identifying information such as name, social security number, or credit card number to commit fraud or other crimes, according to a DPS press release.
"If your social security card is stolen it can be used for employment, or to get a drivers license, credit card, or cable and utilities," Krogman said.
According to the state DPS about 3,000 Minnesotans report some kind of identity theft every year.
Marshall Police Det. Tim Tomasek specializes in fraud and identity theft. Tomasek said three to four cases of scams and attempted identify theft are reported every week.
"Not all result in financial loss though," Tomasek said, "most are just attempts. We've all heard of the "grandson in Mexico," "The Australian lottery," and of course the "Nigerian letter."
Unfortunately, not enough people have heard of the "grandson in Mexico/Canada" scam. This is a con practiced on seniors by scammers pretending to be a grandson in Canada or Mexcio who is in jail, or stuck on the border, and needs money to get home.
On Thursday, a local elderly couple wired $2,700 to get their grandson out of a Mexican jail when, in fact, he reportedly on his way home from Kuwait.
"A couple received a call purporting to be from their grandson," Tomasek said. "We got notified by their adult daughter but we couldn't find them in time to prevent them from wiring the money."
Tomasek said the chances of recovering the money were, "slim."
More elaborate ruses involve setting up a paper identity as another person, by stealing someone's personal data through letters, a phone call, or a phony credit card statement."
According to Tomasek, credit card numbers and identifying data can be stolen by bad employees in a legitimate business processing online orders, or via a high tech theft called "skimming." A small hand hand-held device can be used by a dishonest sales clerk or waiter while processing a credit card payment. The device reads all the data encoded on the credit card, which can be downloaded later.
"I can't think of a specific case in Marshall," Tomasek said, "but there's a lot of cases where people have had their credit card numbers used and they have no idea how."
However Tomasek warned, it doesn't even need to be that complex.
"It can be something as simple as stealing someone's mail," Tomasek said. "Guard your mail, it's easy to steal, especially in a congregated living situation. One of the best precautions you can take is to buy a shredder."
What an identify thief can get from your household trash are pre-approved credit card applications, according to Tomasek. All they need do is fill out the application and change the return address to a post office box.
"That being said, you should always monitor your credit card statements," Tomasek said. "If you have unauthorized charges, call the police and your credit card company. The Federal Trade Commission reports most people don't realize a problem until one year after their identity is compromised."
The repercussions from identity theft can take years to straighten out, Tomasek said.
"If the victim lives here we can initiate an investigation, take the initiative and contact the business and law enforcement if it's in another state," Tomasek said. "Unfortunately, there's a lot of dead ends."