BLADENSBURG — Prevention is key to personal safety, FBI agent Harry Trombitas told residents who gathered at East Knox Elementary School on Monday for a crime awareness seminar. Being alert and responding quickly are also key elements in deterring or minimizing crime.
Featuring a map, image gallery, stories and related videos to the crime wave that struck Southeastern Knox County from 2009 to early 2010.
“Most of these thefts can be prevented simply by making your residence, your outbuildings, your vehicles, harder to break into,” the 27-year veteran said, speaking on home security. “Keep your garage doors closed, lock your vehicles.”
In response to one man who said he has never locked his doors, Trombitas responded, “If you have not locked your doors before, it’s tough to have that mindset. If you don’t bother to use the tools that you have before you, you are going to make it easier for a criminal.”
Speaking to business owners on how to prevent a robbery, Trombitas said they should always check the building or lot before they enter.
“You business owners have to be on your toes all the time,” he said. “There are people who will target owners as they enter a building ... they can get a bigger haul than at the cash register.
“We actually have people who will follow you home, commit a home invasion, and bring you back the next day and try to get into the safe or vault,” he said.
Checking surveillance equipment frequently is important, he said.
“There is nothing more frustrating as an investigator ... when I get there and find we have a terrible picture. There is absolutely no excuse with today”s technology to receive a poor surveillance photo.”
He said it is not only important to be able to see the robber on the surveillance tape, it is also important that when the photo is submitted to the media, the public is able to make an identification. For those who use VHS tapes, he said the tapes should be recorded over no more than three times.
“VHS tapes now are so cheap there is no excuse to keep using the tapes,” he said.
Referring specifically to bank robbers, Trombitas said they want to get in and out with as few people as possible looking at them.
“When I talk to bank robbers about what discourages them, it is if too many people are paying attention,” he said, adding that he is a firm believer in the no hats, no hoods, no sunglasses policy put in place by some financial institutions.
If you are robbed, he said, be a good witness. Don’t panic, and look at the suspect in order to provide a good description. Identifying factors include the approximate age, height and build; gender and race; facial features, including tattoos or scars; clothing — shirt, jacket, pants, cap; whether they have a weapon; and any vehicles that may be involved, including color and make or model if you are able to get it.
If an individual is the victim of identify theft, Trombitas said the individual needs to place a fraud alert by reporting to one of three credit bureaus.
“Close the accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or compromised,” he said. “And you have to file a police report. It’s very important that you do these things very quickly.”
Identity theft can happen if personal information or credit cards are in wallet or purse that is stolen while shopping, or by using credit cards at a restaurant.
“When you go out to eat and turn over your credit card, how many actually examine your paper?” he asked. “You need to keep track of your card.”
Mail at home is another opportunity for identify theft to occur.
“We have individuals who travel around and steal mail from your box,” said Trombitas. “It’s important not to let [mail] sit [in the box].”
Regarding outgoing mail, Trombitas said, “Even the US Postal Service will tell you it’s probably a good idea to mail from one of the blue boxes rather than a box at home.”
Shredding any paper that has identifying information on it such as name, ID or account numbers, or Social Security number is also important, Trombitas said, because there are people who will go Dumpster diving, looking through trash for such information.
“Make sure when you use an ATM machine that you don’t have people standing around that may want to try to grab onto your information,” he said.
Another common ploy, Trombitas said, is the use of text or e-mail messages stating there is something wrong with an account.
“So you call, and the next thing you know you are providing your information to a fraudie,” said Trombitas. “Banks and credit unions don’t e-mail or text. If you have any questions, call your bank or credit union direct.
“These [frauds] deal with thousands of people,” he added. “All they need is for one or two or three people to fall victim, and they have made a pretty good living.”
An oft-used ploy with senior citizens is a scam where they receive a call from a grandchild purportedly in jail.
“If you ever have someone in your family who needs money, call them and verify it first,” he said.
Trombitas also spoke briefly about child abduction.
“Seventy-five percent of all missing kids will return alive,” he said, “but if the offender that takes your child intends to kill your child when done, that child will be dead within the first three hours after the abduction. That is why it’s so important to report it as soon as possible.”
According to Trombitas, in child abduction cases 49 percent of the abductors are family members and 27 percent acquaintances; 24 percent are strangers.
The seminar was sponsored by CES Credit Union and the Mount Vernon News.