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  • Identity Theft County’s Top Property Crime

    Posted on July 10th, 2008 NewSunSEO No comments

    Some victims are hit through online banking or shopping, but most common cause is leaving purse or wallet in car

    Tonia Hall didn’t know the problems she was creating for herself when she logged into her online banking account at the end of her work day last June.

    She was was checking her balance before writing checks for household bills and running a few errands. The $1,000 in her checking account was more than enough to cover what she needed.

    But the next morning, her bank called, wanting to know why she had emptied out her and her son’s accounts. Soon she was getting calls about checks she had written on her errands.

    Her checks had bounced.

    The bank log showed that five minutes after Hall had signed out and left the office, her account was hacked into, the money she was counting on to pay bills, cover checks and buy groceries and gas transferred to an unknown account, leaving Hall with debts and bounced checks.

    Who entered her bank account, or how they did it, was never resolved, Hall said. Her bank refunded the lost money but couldn’t do anything for her reputation.

    “To me, it was a lot of money,” said Hall, a single mother of two. “I still go places where, because of what happened, I can’t write a check. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

    Hall is one of hundreds of Sonoma County residents who are victims of credit card and identity fraud.

    “We get more reports of identity theft every day than traffic accidents,” said Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Mike Lazarini.

    Credit card theft and fraud is the leading property crime in Sonoma County, officials with the Santa Rosa police and Sonoma County sheriff said.

    The Federal Trade Commission estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year and 3.7 percent of American’s have had fraudulent purchases made to their credit.

    In May, 36 cases of credit card and identity fraud were reported to the Santa Rosa Police Department. In the same time period, 22 cases were reported to the sheriff’s department.

    “At local, national and international levels, it’s growing,” said Sheriff’s Sgt. Glen Lawrence.

    Some victims, like Hall, had entered credit card and bank information online or used banking Web sites.

    Others had simply lost their wallets.

    Most commonly, Lawrence said, victims left their purses or wallets in their cars while running out for an errand or a walk in the park.

    Many cases cross county or state lines. Some are international, making following the trail of a stolen identity, even through electronic purchases, difficult, Lawrence said.

    But arrests are made.

    Earlier this month, Tina Ryan was sentenced to nine months in Sonoma County Jail for copying credit card data from a Sebastopol company she had worked for and using the information to buy thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts. Investigators said Ryan bought more than 100 items with the stolen credit information.

    In May, two Oakland women were arrested in Windsor on suspicion of using stolen credit identities to make purchases at Wal-Mart, Lawrence said.

    Sheriff’s deputies arrested Lois Ann Fairman and Tyja Wilkins, who reportedly were using 30 stolen credit cards to make purchases. Detectives believe the women transferred information from the stolen cards to gift cards, Lawrence said.

    No charges have been brought against the women in Sonoma County, but investigators are attempting to locate the victims and expect the case to be far-reaching, Lawrence said.

    Credit card and identity fraud is easier to avoid than prosecute, Lawrence said.

    “The most common theft begins when a victim leaves a purse or wallet in their car. It’s the most common and the most preventable,” he said.

    Being cautious with mail, safeguarding personal information, shredding financial documents, credit card offers and receipts, ordering credit reports and using Internet sites carefully are all safeguards against fraud, Lazarini said.

    By Laura Norton – THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

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