Orem » When Harry Rodas hops online to check out what his family and friends are up to on Facebook, he also learns if cars have been stolen in his neighborhood and gets more information about the latest Internet scams.
The Washington, D.C. transplant is still occasionally shocked by a string of car thefts or the news that some of his fellow Orem residents have wired thousands of dollars to a perfect stranger in hopes of making a quick buck. And he's always grateful he can stay informed and make himself less of a target.
That's exactly why Sgt. Craig Martinez, the new public information officer for the Orem Department of Public Safety, created the department's Facebook page and updates it at least once a day. He also maintains the department's blog and posts to its Twitter account.
"I just want to educate people," said Martinez. "The sooner we get educated as a community, the sooner we can minimize the chances we'll become victims. Crime in America will continue until we educate each other."
Martinez came to the department in 2000 and spent time as a patrol officer and patrol supervisor. But it was his 2½ years as a fraud detective that made him realize how vulnerable people are to online and phone scams, and how many Orem residents fell prey to them every year.
"People don't usually think about identity theft until it's happened to them," Martinez said. "So I decided to be proactive when it comes to that."
Martinez still does the occasional presentation, but after he became the public information officer late last year, he posted his entire PowerPoint presentation on the department's blog. He hopes people will take the 20 minutes to go through it and learn how to lower their risk of becoming a victim.
"For 2½ years, I was doing strictly fraud, and I got so tired of seeing people getting taken for things that shouldn't have happened in the first place," he said. "All it would have taken was a few preventative measures to protect themselves."
Martinez doesn't just post about scams and identity theft, though. His subjects range from alerting people to recent car thefts to Orem officers tracking down a rape or burglary suspect. A recent post alerted Orem residents to an increase in catalytic-converter thefts and urged, "If you see someone underneath your neighbor's car or underneath a car in the parking lot of your local grocery store, and they look like they're cutting off the catalytic converter, try and get a license plate of the car they arrived in and call the police."
Martinez's boss, Capt. Bob Conner, said it was Martinez's strong community presence and his know-how with social media that made him a perfect fit for the position when the former public information officer retired.
"People are still falling for this scam stuff, but we're trying to educate everyone we can so they can prevent themselves from being victimized," Conner said.
A couple of dozen law enforcement agencies across the state have Twitter feeds, but few if any post on Facebook or regularly maintain blogs.
Martinez updates the Facebook page even when he's not at work, often whipping out his Blackberry on a Saturday or Sunday to keep residents updated about a crime. And he directly and quickly responds to people who post comments or questions.
It's something that Orem resident Rodas appreciates.
"When I read about crime in the area, I find out about the risks and can be more cautious to better protect myself," Rodas said. "It's a really great service and I wish more cities would do it."
» Shred any document that has your name on it, from credit card applications to prescription medicine tags.
» Do not post your full name and birthdate on social media sites such as Facebook.
» If someone calls you with something too good to be true, it probably is. Do some basic research before sending money to anyone.