Mark Solomon has had his identity compromised by thieves three times in the past year -- and he's a member of the Secret Service's Connecticut Financial Crimes Task Force.

"You're like, `Why is this guy teaching this class?' " Solomon joked before explaining how easy it can be to have one's identity stolen. "In 2011, identity fraud increased 13 percent, with 11.6 million adults as victims."

Solomon, a 19-year veteran of the Greenwich Police Department, the last 12 of which have been with the criminal investigations division, was speaking to a large luncheon crowd

of the League of Women Voters at the Country

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Club of New Canaan.

"Once every three seconds is how fast an ID is stolen" nationally, Solomon said. The task force of which he is a part works with various law enforcement agencies and private businesses to track down and prevent identity theft. And it comes at no cost to the taxpayer: The money the task force confiscates from the criminals is used to fund its operations and open new task forces.

He explained the appeal for criminals of identity theft over traditional theft.

"It's a big-money, low-risk crime of convenience. I could do it in my pajamas on my laptop in bed," he said.

It's low-risk because only about 5 percent of identity theft complaints end in arrest, Solomon said. Officers in many departments across the country, but especially in cities, don't have the resources to go after computer criminals when they deal with such a high occurrence of violent crime.

He also explained just how sophisticated some identity theft operations can be. One of thieves' most preferred methods is skimming ATMs. The criminals will insert card readers onto the ATM and install tiny cameras somewhere on the machine to record the black magnetic strip information from the back of the card and watch someone enter their PIN. The criminals can then buy blank plastic credit cards and encode them with magnetic strips containing the same information, creating a duplicate credit card.

The best way to prevent against this is to keep your hand low over the key pad when you're typing in your PIN, Solomon said. He added that many companies have made newer machines which make it harder to install skimming devices, but that these machines are expensive and banks have been slow to replace old machines due to cost.

Another way of gaining information for criminals is by asking for it directly. Solomon recalled a "jury duty" story in which a person pretending to be from the government calls and said you've missed jury duty. To avoid being held in contempt, they tell you they are now recording the conversation and that you must identify yourself and pledge to come on a certain future date. They ask for your Social Security number, birth date, etc., and you've just given a criminal all they need.

Solomon said it's best for people to hang up and cross-reference the number that called them with an official number before giving out personal information to anyone over the phone.

Identity theft can be difficult and it requires some expertise to make fake cards. Many times, criminals sell identities online to other criminals, creating a hierarchy of identity theft.

"How many people like eBay?" Solomon asked. "The criminals have their own versions, as well. A carding website will have auctions, like `I'll sell you 100 IDs for $2,000.' You can even rate the seller. `Johnny Jones gave me some great cards.' "

Other tips Solomon offered were never to click on links from unusual emails, as they might install a virus on your computer, and to consider changing passwords every 60 to 90 days.

"Households with incomes higher than $70,000 were twice as likely to experience identity theft than those under $50,000," Solomon said. "Lower Fairfield County is very wealthy, but criminals know that, too."

twoods@bcnnew.com: 203-972-4413; @Woods_NCNews