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a credit card and checkIdentity Crisis

LINDA FOLEY NEVER IMAGINED she’d fall victim to identity theft—especially at the hands of her North County employer. But that reality hit her square in the face—and pocketbook —when Foley discovered her boss had opened a cell phone account and credit line using information obtained from Foley’s employee tax forms.

According to the San Diego Police Department, identity theft is one of the region’s fastest-growing crimes, a trend that’s also reflected on a national level. The San Diego district attorney’s office outlines three kinds of I.D. theft: True-name fraud occurs when someoneuses your personal information to open a new account; in an account takeover, a thief gains access to your existing account; and someone who uses your personal information to avoid prosecution commits criminal identity theft. The most common ways of obtaining personal information are via mail theft, Dumpster scavenging and theft of company records by employees.

“My initial reaction was denial,” says Foley. “I thought, ‘This must be some big mistake; this couldn’t be happening to me.’ ” Her experience navigating a lengthy, complicated identity-fraud investigation led Foley and her husband, Jay, to form the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), a national nonprofit that serves as a resource and advisory center. Supported by the Foleys’ seed money and public grants, ITRC offers assistance at no charge to victims of identity theft. Todd Davis is CEO of LifeLock, a company that counsels clients on how to prevent identity theft. He says 40 percent of cases occur between November 15 and December 31.

“The holidays bring out the best—and worst—in people,” Davis says. “Whether it’s going to the mall and pulling receipts out of the garbage, or posing as some kind of philanthropic cause, thieves are using whatever tactics they can to glean information.”

Linda Foley agrees. “Identity thieves don’t take a holiday,” she says. The ITRC Web site annually sees a dramatic spike in visitors in February and March, when the holiday dust has settled and the creditors begin calling. ITRC issues a tip sheet to help individuals avoid victimization during the holidays. Among the advice (more can be found at idtheftcenter.org):

  • The holidays may cause a minor delay in mail delivery, but anything beyond a few days is cause for concern. Contact both the issuer and the post office if you suspect your mail has been stolen. Invest in a mailbox lock to avoid theft.
  • Be wary of “shoulder surfing.” Take measures to protect credit cards, driver’s license and checks from wandering eyes at store counters.
  • Place receipts in a secure location in your wallet. Don’t throw them in the purchase bag; thieves are watching for that. Shred any receipts you don’t want.
  • Credit-card skimming occurs when a clerk slides your credit card through a second machine that stores the data until it is downloaded on a counterfeit card. Don’t let your credit card leave your sight during the entire transaction.
LifeLock’s Davis has another tip for year-round protection: “The best thing you can do to protect yourself is to place a fraud alert with the three credit bureaus,” he says. The free alert—which lasts 90 days and can be renewed on an ongoing basis at equifax.com, experian.com and transunion.com—notifies the account holder of any activity before a damaging transaction can take place.

an artist at his easelFine Art for All

IT STARTED AS A NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION: Carlsbad resident and artist David R. Darrow made the promise to jump-start his oil painting career by producing one portrait a week for auction on eBay. But with 30,000-plus paintings for sale on eBay on any given day, his paintings weren’t attracting the attention he’d hoped for. So Darrow carved out another on-line space to showcase his art——he created a blog.

Darrow, 49, represents the burgeoning trend of artist-turned-blogger. More specifically, he’s one of a number of painters across the country who paint every day and make entries in an on-line journal to connect with potential buyers. Each day, Darrow spends anywhere from three to eight hours on a new painting, which he eventually posts to his blog (everydaypaintings.com) with a short note about what inspired the piece, and a link to the corresponding eBay Web page. He posts two to three paintings a week, with a starting bid of $100. In the past 10 months, all but two paintings—— mostly 5 by 7 inches——have sold.

The blog receives 80-100 hits per day, and 420 people have signed up for Darrow’s “Art in Your Inbox” e-mail, which notifies subscribers of a newly completed painting. He has sold his paintings to art-lovers from as far away as Japan and Europe, and has loyal, repeat patrons all over the country.

Darrow, who also teaches oil painting locally and paints commissioned portraits, says blogging makes fine art more affordable——and accessible. “I see it as a way for people to get good art without paying the markups you find at galleries” of 40-60 percent.

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