Ottawa police warn Christmas shoppers to lock it or lose it

Thieves will snatch your wallet, and possibly your whole life, if your car’s left open.

Ontario’s top cops are warning motorists to lock it or lose it, stressing the rise in identity theft from drivers leaving vehicles unlocked or keeping valuables in plain sight.

And thieves aren’t snobs when it comes to their targets.

“They are opportunistic, so if it’s left unlocked, it doesn’t matter if it’s an Audi or if it’s a car that would, you know, fetch $200 at an auction,” said Ottawa Police Staff Sgt. Stephanie Burns from the organized fraud unit.

“It doesn’t matter if you have a Coach purse or if you just have a shopping bag that you use to carry your stuff in. They don’t care.”

The number of stolen vehicles has dropped dramatically — 4,500 fewer thefts in 2012 than a year prior — according to the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, and a 57% drop from a decade ago.

At the same time, 12,739 incidents of identity theft and identity fraud were reported to police in 2012 — a 5% increase over 2011.

“Fewer motor vehicle thefts mean criminals look for new ways to commit crimes. Identity theft offers opportunities for criminal activities,” said Rick Dubin from the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

Mall parking lots are a “target-rich environment for thieves,” simply due to the “pure volume of people that are out and about doing their Christmas shopping and preparing themselves for the holidays,” said Burns.

She suggests carrying a minimal amount of identification, and leaving your SIN card at home.

When someone gets their hands on a wallet, they can go to a cell phone provider “with the identification that you have in your wallet that doesn’t have any picture on it, and they’ll buy a cell phone and set up a plan,” under your name, she said.

The bill will be sent to a different address, “so they rack up a big bill, the account goes delinquent, now that’s a mark against your credit history.”

You’ll find out at the bank when applying for a loan, or by running your own credit check.

Credit card companies won’t find the increased activity alarming at this time of year, she said.

City cops are reminding residents to place the yellow ‘All Valuables Removed’ cards, available at police stations, on their dashboards.

Twitter: @kellyroche6

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