When Clay County Prosecutor David Thomas began warning residents about identity theft (resulting in fraudulent credit car charges among other things) little did he know he would be a possible target.
Yet, Thomas' credit card has been charged $350 by a New Jersey bookstore, yet newither Thomas nor his wife have made any purchases to account for the charge.
Thomas used the example Wednesday to reinforce the danger of identity theft to Rotarians and their guests. He spoke at the weekly meeting held at Smokin' Charlie's Come & Get It Diner in Knightsville.
Thomas discovered the charge while taking some of his own advice. He was reviewing his monthly credit card statement.
He says the charge may be a mistake, that credit card numbers were transposed and the wrong account was charge, or it could be something much more sinister.
"It has been in the state headlines for several months and it is right here in Clay County," Thomas told fellow Rotarians.
Identity theft occurs any time someone "steals your identity and uses it for a gain of property," he said. The crime has tripled in Clay County in the past three years.
Thomas used examples of local identity theft and the consequences it brought victims.
Olga Aponte was arrested with a carload of stolen items in her vehicle. She posted bail but failed to show for her initial hearing. So, an arrest warrant was issued.
Aponte was taken into custody while vehemently denying any wrongdoing and any knowledge of the charge. In fact, she was so insistent about her innocence, the officer who caught Aponte with a car load of stolen goods was brought in to identify her.
The Aponte who stood before him was not the same woman he arrested. An innocent Olga Aponte had been the victim of identity theft and was taken into custody for a crime she not only did not commit, but she was not the person who had been arrested!
"This is an extreme case, but it s something that happened right here," Thomas said.
He gave two other local examples:
- Robbie Durban stole mail from 12 victims, totaling thefts of $20,000. By posing as those people, he was able to cash their checks. They will never get their money back.
- Brenda Snyder applied for new credit cards in her ex-husband's name. The man found out when he and his new wife applied for a a home mortgage. The credit bureau denied his application on the basis of the credit card debt he owed.
Brenda was convicted and her ex-husband's name was cleared, but not after he suffered quite a bit of anguish over the situation.
A consumer's credit is compromised in five ways, Thomas said.
Store or restaurant employees can obtain very small credit card readers that fit in the palm of their hand. When a customer gives the employee a credit card, the card is skimmed twice. It is put through the portable skimmer before being skimmed in the legitimate skimmer. The employee then uses the credit card number to obtain money or merchandise illegally, charging it to the credit cardholders' account.
2. Stolen invoices
Credit card receipts should always be taken out of the store and never left behind. Some receipts have the credit card number printed on them.
3. Credit card losses
If you lose a credit card, report the loss immediately to limit liability.
Never give out credit card information over the telephone. Not only do thieves solicit sales, asking for credit card numbers, but they sometimes impersonate credit card company or bank personnel and ask to verify a credit card number.
5. Stolen mail.
Mail should not be left in a mailbox and any credit card statements or receipts not filed should be shredded before being thrown away.
"A $19 paper shredder is a lot cheaper than a theft," Thomas said.
Thomas also gave 10 ways to avoid identity theft:
1. Don't leave receipts in stores.
2. Destroy credit card apps, credit card bill receipts
3. When moving, change address with the post office, so mail is not delivered to the old address.
4. If you are in business, require a photo ID before taking a credit care from a customer.
5. Don't put Social Security Numbers on checks.
6. Destroy old check books.
7. Buy and use a paper shredder.
8. Review credit card statements.
9. Never give personal financial information or credit card numbers over the telephone.
10. Check your credit reference with a credit bureau.
If you are the victim of identity theft, report it immediately to the police. Give them a written statement of what happened, copies of documents, names of any suspect and why you think the incident occurred.
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