Coffee with a Cop brought out 30 to 40 residents during the Dec. 8 meeting. The meetings feature a different guest speaker the fourth Thursday of each month. Coffee with a Cop's focus is to inform, as well as converse with residents in the community.

The Dec. 8 meeting focused on fraud, forgery, schemes, and scams. As the holiday approaches, the amount of fraudulent acts is known to increase - this is because shopping and Internet activity increase.

Coffee with a Cop featured detective Harry Steward with the Glendale Police Department's criminal investigations division. Steward has been in financial crimes a little more than three years; he has been with the Glendale Police Department for about 10 years. His aim was to inform the public of identity theft, theft of credit cards, fraudulent use of credit cards, forgery, and fraud schemes.

Identity theft is a class four felony and occurs when a person steals personal information without permission or knowledge. Suspects use Internet, e-mail, and regular mail to steal information.

Steward said, "When a victim is notified by Department of Economic Security, Internal Revenue Service, and Social Security Administraton that someone is using their Social Security number for employment, we contact the employer and request employee records for the Social Security in question. We attempt contact with the suspect, and if contacted, we make an arrest."

Steward said, "Ways they find out they are victims of theft are with Social Security benefits, financing for a house, or running a credit report. We recommend that you run a credit report at least once a year to make sure you are not a victim of theft. You are entitled to one free credit report per year. Experian, Transunion, and Equifax are the three major credit bureaus, and if there is something unusual on your credit, call one of the three credit companies and ask them what's going on."

Forgery is a class four felony and occurs when a criminal defrauds someone by falsely making, completing, or altering a written object, owns a false instrument, or provides a forged object or information to another person. Forgery occurs when a suspect makes counterfeit cash or checks.

Steward said an example of forgery occurred when a suspect entered a Walmart to return a color scanner and printer he had purchased; however, the suspect placed some money on the scanner, forgetting to remove it. The Walmart employee noticed he was using the scanner to create counterfeit money.

Checks are also another means of forgery. The criminal will steal checks through the mail, take off an existing name, and replace it with a new one.

Steward said, "What these bad guys will do is they will try and get ahold of checks, steal your mail, especially if you have the older mailbox with the flag showing there is mail in there. A check has your name, address, account number, routing number. With this information, they can put a different name in place of the old one. This type of activity is especially prevalent this time of year because people are sending off checks to family for the holiday."

To avoid being a victim of getting your account breached using checks, consider the following tips:

· Minimize the number of checks you write.

· Only use checks that contain security features, such as security ink and chemically sensitive paper, to protect against check washing.

· Use pens containing permanent black gel inks. Gel ink is unlike dye-based inks and can't be easily removed with water or chemicals.

· Never use an unlocked mailbox for incoming or outgoing mail.

· Mail your bills safely.

· Do not leave rent payments in drop boxes.

· Strictly monitor your bank account activity.

Theft of a credit card is a class five felony, while fraudulent use of a credit card is a class one misdemeanor.

One of Steward's partners mentioned there was a guy with some type of disability. He needed assistance at an ATM, and had his caretaker assist him. He gave his pin number to the caretaker. Later, the caretaker returned with the ATM card to pull out cash without the owner present, or any permission. This is an example of theft of a credit card.

Fraud schemes and scams are class two felonies and deal with obtaining personal information through the Internet, e-mail, or by mail. The criminal will provide false information in order to gain the person's credit card, debit card, or cash to benefit their well-being. Examples of schemes and scams are individuals who falsely sell items through Craig's List or eBay. They will sell a non-existent item to get card information, or cash from the buyer/victim.

One attendee at the coffee meeting said, "One time I got an e-mail saying it was from Bank of America. It was very official. It mentioned that I needed to click on a link because it was questioning something going on with my account."

She said she made a copy of the e-mail, took it to the bank to confirm it was real, and the teller said "no."

Steward said this kind of act is called a phishing scam.

"You get a link, you click on it and they are going to ask you for your account information, name, address, Social Security number, date of birth, etc." Steward said. "They say your account has been compromised and they convince you to give up all your personal information. This sends information to another country. You have to be very wary of unsolicited phone calls and e-mails."

How do suspects get personal information?

· Stealing wallets, purses, and mail with bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers, new checks; and tax information.

· Stealing personal information given using insecure websites.

· Looking through trash, business trash cans, and public dumps.

· They may falsely pose as someone who needs the victim's personal information. They may pose as employers or landlords using phone or e-mail.

· The suspect may buy personal information from companies such as buying paperwork showing personal information appearing on applications for goods and services, or credit information.

What to do to prevent fraud and theft?

· Shred paperwork with any personal information before throwing away.

· Do not carry Social Security card in wallet or write it down on a check. Only give away Social Security number if it is absolutely necessary.

· Do not give out personal information on the phone, mail, or over the Internet unless it is a secure place.

· Do not click on links sent in unsolicited e-mails.

· Do not use blatant passwords like mother's maiden name, or Social Security digits.

· Keep personal information in a safe place at home.

· Use www.annualcreditreport.com to get a free credit report offered each year.

· Place a fraud alert on credit reports to let creditors know they need to follow certain procedures before opening new accounts.

· Close accounts, call security or fraud departments where an account might have been opened or changed without permission.

Stay safe and clear of identity theft this holiday season, and consider safety precautions, such as safely discarding unwanted personal documents during the upcoming free Shred It and Forget It event. In Partnership with the Glendale Police Department, Maricopa County Attorney's Office, and Shred-It, the event will be 7 to 11 a.m. Jan. 24 in the northeast parking lot at Cabela's, 9380 W. Glendale Ave.

Bring everything from old bills, medical records bank statements, and any other documents containing personal identifying information. Bring boxes of paper only, and each individual has a limit of five boxes per vehicle.

For more information, contact Angela Freeman, Crime Prevention Specialist, 623-930-4030.

Coffee with a Cop gives residents a chance to communicate with Glendale law enforcement. The next Coffee with a Cop will be 5:30 p.m. Jan. 26 at Denny's, 5161 W. Thunderbird Road. To confirm Coffee with a Cop event, call the Glendale Denny's at 602-978-5442. For a Denny's location near you, visit www.dennys.com.

For more information on Glendale Police, visit www.glendaleaz.com/police.