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Astoria crime down despite rise in ID theft: Cops

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The precinct that covers six square miles in Astoria, Long Island City, Woodside and Jackson Heights experienced dips in five of the seven major crime categories. Burglaries took the largest plunge to 548 from 659 cases in 2003 - a nearly 17 percent decrease. In October, Crime Prevention Officer Peter Lauinger attributed the drop to his precinct's free home security checks. Robberies were down 12.4 percent to 464 cases vs. 530 in 2003. Rapes dipped 10.5 percent to 34 cases. Felony assaults fell 8.9 percent to 295 cases, 29 fewer than last year.And auto theft fell by 5 percent. Thirty-one less cases brought the year-end total to 585 cases. The murder rate was flat with eight cases in both 2003 and 2004.But a rise in identity theft pushed the number of grand larcenies to 916 vs. 844 last year. Inspector David Barrere called identity theft the fastest growing crime in his precinct during a Community Board 1 meeting in November. "That's probably the most difficult crime I have to fight in the precinct," Barrere said at the time. "Identity theft is complex because of mail and (the) Internet. It's a major problem." As of November, the 114th Precinct had handled 162 cases of identity theft, more than double the amount in all of 2003. The crime is difficult to investigate, he said, because the offense often happens miles away from his jurisdiction. For instance, a credit card number lifted off the Internet might be used to purchase goods across the country. He said the best way to combat the crime is through prevention, and he urged residents to shred their mail, fiercely guard their Social Security numbers and have their credit checked every quarter. Reach reporter Matthew Monks by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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