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Tips offered to protect yourself from ID theft, other crimes

August 14, 2013
By MEL TOADVINE ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

Brian MacNeel had no problems getting his audience to understand his message about the increasing problems of identity theft and such crimes as home invasions, vehicle break-ins and personal safety.

In his jovial style, MacNeel, who is with the Crime Prevention Task Force and a certified crime practitioner with the task force in Brandon, Fla., was speaking to a Greater Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce group.

Using no scripted speech, MacNeel easily spoke of a subject that he is an expert at and his desire, he said, is to educate as many people as he can as how they can protect themselves from these crimes that are beginning to affect lots of people.

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Brian MacNeel

"ID theft is rampant, and I am sure you know that. Every three seconds, someone is becoming a victim," he said.

Looking out over a large audience of 50 or so chamber members, MacNeel warned first off about problems about ID theft and how easy it is to get your personal information from scammers and others who want to steal your ID and your money.

"First off, don't ever again, don't ever - give anyone personal information in an email or on the telephone about your personal life, your Social Security number and your Medicare information, your phone number, nothing, period," he said.

"When you get one of those emails that says it is from your bank and that they are having computer problems and need to prove who you are so they can improve their system, just hit the delete key. And delete those emails that say you have inherited millions and they want to send you a check.

"Don't ever give out any personal information. We keep telling people, and more and more are listening, but there are still some who give out information that can cause them a lot of trouble in the future. Your bank will not call you or email you if there is a problem about a computer breakdown. If you think they are calling you, hang up, and then get the number of your bank and call them and tell them about getting such a call," he said.

Another bit of information that some people are already doing, but not nearly enough is shredding papers.

"Get a paper shredder and shred your personal papers when you are through with them. Don't store personal information on your computer and when you go to the mail box and pick up your junk mail, especially those that say you have been pre-approved for a credit card, run as quickly as you can to a shredder and get rid of it," he said. He said that if you don't, such junk mail and other papers that identify you will get in the wrong hands and your life can become miserable and costly.

He told the group not to send checks in the mail in your front yard mailbox where people leave the red flag up to let the postman know you have mail to go out.

"That's a flag all right, usually to a thief that you may be mailing a check or a gift card to someone. Don't do it. Take it to the post office and mail it there. You are a lot safer," he said.

"Watch your credit cards, watch for charges you didn't make, and if you find something that you did not purchase, get in touch immediately with the credit card company. It will save you a lifetime of grief," he said.

And it is a good idea, he said, to check your credit ratings, but be very careful when you check them on the Internet.

"You are entitled to check for free each one of the three firms that keep such information. When you check, make sure you are going through the free government accounts. You will get email purporting to check your credit for free - watch out, they are going to steal your information, don't do it. Always make sure you are dealing with the proper email site when checking your credit," MacNeel said.

He noted that auto theft occurs every 14 seconds in the U.S. He said auto thieves can spend hardly any time taking all the valuables you leave in an unlocked car. Then they flee and you have lost what was valuable to you.

"I cannot stress it enough, lock your cars when you are away from home and when you come home, lock your car before going into the house. Some thieves are known to even break the windows of your cars, so don't leave valuables in your car. If they see them, they will grab it all. Especially GPS devises that lots of us stick to our windows or dashboards. They can grab those in seconds and are gone; the same with cell phones, anything electronic," he said. "So the best way is to have nothing you don't want taken left in your car."

He spoke about how easy someone can be robbed at a gas station.

"While you're sometimes leaving the car to go inside, a thief will jump around to your car, pretending he is pumping gas and in seconds will be inside your car and stealing all you have. Lock your car if you go inside," he said.

And he warned men and women to be very careful when in a parking lot, to be sure nobody is lurking between your car and another vehicle or inside your car already.

"If you use police strength pepper spray, have it in your hands, not in your pocketbook. Be ready. Some people carry them on their key chains. One shot into the face will disable any thief. If there are more than one thieves, spray the others equally as well in the face. You can disable them. Don't buy the pepper spray in the big box stores. They have little of the main chemical in them and are ineffective. Call your sheriff's office or law enforcement to find out where they purchase their pepper spray," he said. "And be careful with the inexpensive stuff. You can spray at a thief and if the wind is blowing against you, guess what, the spray comes back into your face.

"That's not too much fun," he joked.

He told the group to have two flash lights in your vehicles - one in the trunk and another in the glove compartment.

"And the one in your glove department can be a smaller one that is really strong with a LED light and it will have a spike so you can bust a window of your car if you land in high water or in a canal. If you do, break the window, and get out as fast as you can. It will also have a device to cut your seat belts. That small flashlight that you can get to fast in an emergency is about 35 bucks and well worth it," he said.

Home burglary is an ever increasing crime and said a home is broken into every 14.3 seconds in the U.S. Thieves get in through unlocked doors, windows and sliders. Take an exercise to lock up your home, whether you are gone or at home and don't ever, every answer a door unless you are familiar with the person ringing your doorbell," he said.

He told the group a lot of people keep a good brand of pepper spray near their front door so that if they open it and are threatened, they can take immediate action to disable the person or persons. Then slam the door and call 911, he said.

He went on to describe dozens of ways homeowner s can protect their houses, from using an alarm system that senses any movement at any window or door and will sound of a loud siren if someone is trying to get in.

He laughed and noted that there are folks who buy those "Beware of Dog" signs that they put in their front or side windows. Some people even have their dog's bowl at the outside of the door.

"If you have a sign like that, it can be a deterrent. One thing thieves don't like are signs that say you have a dog," he laughed. "They'll pass you buy and go to the next house."

He offered secrets about how to secure sliding doors and other doors in your home and handed out free pamphlets that offer suggestions.

Lastly, he said he always carries a "dummy wallet" in his back pocket with nothing in it, while his real wallet is somewhere else on his body.

"Imagine how that thief feels when he grabs an empty wallet," he laughed.

MacNeel says he loves his job of helping people to remain safe. He will speak to any group about safety. He can be contacted at his office at 813-661-3700 or by cell, 813-531-0000. You can email him at: for seminars and speaker events. He also will do free residential surveys, he said.



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