April 27, 2016 By Michael Florio
A surge in the number of identity thefts–categorized as grand larcenies–has driven up the crime rate up in Astoria in the past month.
In the most recent 28-day period, ending on April 24, there have been 67 grand larcenies, compared to just 39 during this time in 2015, an increase of nearly 72 percent, according to Deputy Inspector Peter Fortune, commanding officer of the 114th precinct.
Twenty-six of the grand larcenies during the past 28 days were identity thefts.
Overall, however, crime was flat during the past 28 days, with 133 reported incidents. However, more than 50 percent of the major crimes reported during the period were grand larcenies, Fortune said.
Identity theft was a big factor behind the rise.
There were 26 incidents of identity theft in the past 28 days compared to just seven during the same period last year. Thieves have been stealing people’s bank information via skimmers, which are devices placed inside the ATM that copy the numbers of a bank card. They have also been setting up fraudulent credit card accounts by gaining access to the victim’s personal information.
Skimmers are placed inside the ATM slot and steal a card’s information when swiped. Often a camera is hidden by the machine to capture the victim’s pin number, according to Fortune. This has happened nine times in the past 28 days.
“It is a hard crime to track,” Fortune said. A victim may live in the 114 Precinct and report the crime here, but it is very difficult to discern where it [the skimming] actually occurred, he explained.
A skimming device was recently discovered on an ATM at the Sunoco gas station on Astoria Boulevard.
Fortune warned those in attendance to pull on an ATMs card slot before using it and to look for a hole in the wall where a camera might be set up. If the ATM feels loose, the ATM should not be used, he said.
There were thousands of these incidents citywide in 2015, yet only 43 arrests were made, according to Fortune. He added that gangs and crews are involved in this crime, and incidents often link back to Romanian and Albanian groups.
“It is easier than standing on the corner selling drugs,” he said. “You’re less likely to get caught too.”
There have been nine incidents where credit card accounts have been opened fraudulently under the name of an Astoria resident in the past 28 days. The suspects have stolen their victim’s personal information, often by taking mail, and then have signed up for a credit card, according to Fortune.
“They just need your name, address and date of birth,” he said. “Then they call Macy’s or one of those companies and open up a credit card.”
Recently, a Bloomingdale’s credit card was opened under an Astoria woman’s name and $18,500 worth of charges were made, according to Fortune.
“She didn’t know until a month later,” he said.
Fortune warned residents to shred anything that contains their personal information before throwing it away.
Thieves have also been targeting people’s personal property as well as their bank accounts.
There were 24 incidents of items being stolen in the past 28-day period compared to 17 for the same period in 2015. This type of theft has been occurring at restaurants and chain stores, where the victim leaves their cell phone or wallet on an unattended table only to find it missing moments later.
“They come back just a few minutes later and it is gone,” Fortune said.
Some of these incidents have occurred at gyms, including two at Planet Fitness on Steinway Street. In each incident, property was removed from an unlocked locker.
Other problem areas for the precinct during the past 28 days included an uptick in the number of robberies. There were 19 reported over the past 28 days compared to 14 during the same period last year.
There were three rapes this month compared to two last year; two were domestic rapes and arrests have been made in both cases. The third incident allegedly occurred in 2006, with the victim just coming forward. The victim in this incident knows the perpetrator.
However, some categories were crime fell.
In the past 28 days, the number of felony assaults reported were down slightly with 22 incidents compared to 24 last year. Grand larceny auto was down significantly, with only 11 stolen vehicles compared to 27 last year.
Burglaries, which have plagued the precinct for a long time, have been on the decline over the past couple of years. There were 11 reported incidents in the past 28 days, compared to 26 for the same 28-day period last year.