By Jason A. Smith
An ongoing investigation by Henry County Police has reportedly uncovered more than $300,000 in alleged identity thefts linked to a local restaurant.
As a result, the agency is emphasizing the need for area residents to monitor their credit histories regularly.
More than 400 alleged credit- and debit-card frauds have been linked to the La Parrilla Mexican Restaurant on Jonesboro Road in McDonough, police said. Henry County Police Detective Sgt. Mike Ireland said the police department is continuing to investigate the cases with assistance from the U.S. Secret Service.
He said identity thefts of this type are increasingly common nationwide.
"It seems like [the number of frauds] grows every year," said Ireland. "This La Parrilla case is probably unique in the sense that so many consumers' identities have been taken at one location. It's a difficult case because these identities are being used all throughout the U.S., and in other countries."
Ireland said "constant monitoring" of one's credit information is key to the early detection of identity fraud.
The county issued a press release earlier this week, about a growing trend, both locally and nationally, in identity-theft cases. The statement quoted Henry County Police Capt. Jason Bolton as calling identity theft "one of the fastest growing crimes" being investigated by law enforcement.
"Everyone is subject to becoming a victim," Bolton said in the statement.
Henry County Spokesperson Julie Hoover-Ernst said nearly 10 million cases of identity theft occurred in the United States in 2008.
"Locally, that number is also rising, with the number of identity-theft cases tied to a single investigation topping 200 people, with hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses," she added. "That's why Henry County Police are reaching out to citizens to help them avoid a costly and frustrating ordeal, a stolen identity."
Hoover-Ernst offered several tips on how to minimize the risk of being victimized by would-be identity thieves.
"Shred all important financial documents," she said. "This means not only your credit card and bank statements, but also any pre-approved credit card applications that come to you in the mail with your name and address pre-printed on the application."
Hoover-Ernst said residents should request an annual credit report, at no cost, from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, and put a security freeze on their credit reports if they suspect fraud. She said birth dates, anniversaries or Social Security numbers should be not be used as passwords for financial accounts, and bills which are mailed should be sent from a post office.
"Monitor your bank and credit card bills carefully each month to check for fraudulent activity," she said. "The little extra time it takes now can help prevent a long, recurring nightmare down the road."