Identity theft victims tell their stories

12:00 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015 Local

Mark Strauser got an alarming call from Wright-Patt Credit Union in June of last year while he and his wife were on vacation.

The credit union’s fraud investigator told them somebody had tried to transfer $120,000 out their home equity line of credit and wire it to another party. Three times.

The Strausers, who live in Sugarcreek Twp., had gone to a store in northern Minnesota to buy furniture for their lakefront condo. The next day they got the call.

Strauser said he initially felt panicked, especially because they were 1,000 miles from home.

“I just thought I was exposed. We felt a little helpless,” said the 64-year-old software engineer and program manager.

“It was pretty eye-opening. They produced my driver’s license with a different picture on it. The fact that someone essentially was able to duplicate my driver’s license even though they didn’t have the right picture, you know, was a little unnerving.”

And then there was the hassle of closing accounts and changing passwords.

“I went out and locked down all of our credit, so no one can really get at anything,” he said.

The Strausers also had to give up some banking convenience. If they want to apply for credit, he said, he has to go online and unlock his credit.

“I can’t do any banking through the drive-through; I have to go inside,” he said. “And when we go into Wright-Patt Credit Union to do business personally we have to have all of our passwords and be able to answer some security questions.”

Strauser said he doesn’t want to “point fingers,” but he suspects someone at the furniture store. He said his wife’s sister and her husband applied for credit at the same store and had the same thing happen.

“We typically haven’t made a whole lot of purchases like that,” he said. “It was one of the few times when you fill out a credit application and you put all this pertinent information into someone else’s hands. It just seemed a little funny to me.”

He applauded the credit union for alerting them to the attempted thefts and helping them through the aftermath.

“Wright-Patt Credit Union did a hell of a job in that they thwarted the attack,” Strauser said. “And they did a great job getting us switched over to new accounts.”

—-

Vaughn Lamore of Clayton tells a cautionary tale about bogus websites on the internet.

Lamore said he was between jobs when he got what looked like a job offer from an online site. He said the offer looked good, so checked out the company online.

“I’m always leery of online jobs,” Lamore said. “I couldn’t find anything suspicious about the company. They looked legit. They sent me onto their website. It didn’t look cheesy or anything.”

The website had glowing customer reviews, he said.

Lamore decided to take the job and gave the company information it requested.

“I’m supposed to be a quality control auditor and inspector, which is what I used to do in UPS out at Emery Worldwide before they laid us off,” Lamore said.

“So, I’m doing the work, and I’m having the packages come in and inspecting them. But I noticed one red flag — almost all of the customers I was sending out to were from Russia.”

When he called his “manager” in New York, he became more suspicious and decided to get out.

But then he started getting bills from Fingerhut, and realized someone had opened an account in his name and was making purchases. One bill was almost $1,500, he said.

“I had to do all this extra homework with telling the Fingerhut anti-theft department I’d been hacked,” Lamore said. “Then the process began with filling out a police report with the Clayton police. They gave me leads and information and phone numbers, and I started calling government offices.

“I got my taxpayer’s money’s worth with them helping me out and giving me other phone numbers to protect me, and keep me locked and sealed so those guys can’t do anything else.”

Lamore had to get a new credit card, change his passwords and get a new tax ID from the IRS so he could process his taxes online.

He never gave the website his Social Security number, he said, but they apparently had enough with his date of birth.

Fingerhut forgave the bills and Lamore was never saddled with any bogus charges.

“I was able to act on it fast enough that they couldn’t hit me online with the accounts I had online,” he said. “So they never hit my credit cards and my bank account.”

—-

Jack Griffith, a Heidelberg Distributors employee for 39 years, got a letter last year telling him his claim for unemployment was under review.

The problem was, he was still working.

“Somebody filed unemployment on me,” said Griffith, who lives in Springboro. “And my work said, ‘Have you quit work? I thought you were working every day.’

“I said, ‘Yeah, I am.’ ”

Griffith said he has no idea how someone got his information. He figures they had his Social Security number and other key identifiers.

“They had to have everything to do it.”

The fraudsters didn’t get any money, though, or leave Griffith with bills for merchandise he didn’t buy.

He filed a police report with the Springboro Police Department, then went to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s website, which had information on agencies to contact.

“That’s all I’ve heard about it,” Griffith said.

Sandra Goodbar, of Springfield, had the same problem.

Last September, her employer, Community Mercy Hospice, asked her whether she had filed for unemployment. Ohio Job & Family Services investigated, she said, and it was determined that someone in Florida had filed in her name.

“They had my Social Security number and they knew my employer, and they had an address, but it was an address from 10 years ago,” Goodbar said. “I thought it was very strange that they knew that address.”

She suspects the identity theft came from an incident in 2003 when she and her husband sold their house.

“We went with our Realtor to a private office that had nothing to do with our sale,” she said. “It was an office that they used. We finished the sale, and in that office we used a fax.”

Months later, the Goodbars began getting bills from a utility company.

“But we didn’t have that service,” she said. “And we didn’t have anything to do with that house at that address.”

That case was investigated, she said, and the fraud was traced back to the office where she used the fax. The utility bill was dropped.

She doesn’t know if anyone from the private office was arrested or prosecuted.

“We know that they had been investigated,” Goodbar said. “We know that a person was suspected in that office. But we don’t know any outcome.”

—-

Pat Young’s first clue that someone had taken over her identity was when she and her husband filed their tax returns in 2013 and the Internal Revenue Service told her it was already processing her claim for a refund.

The Youngs had not filed that claim, and so began a long process of filling out IRS paperwork, filing a police report and working to get the fraudulent claim canceled and her tax forms accepted. Even though she straightened things out with the IRS, her troubles were not over, said Young, 67, of Trotwood.

Earlier this year she got a bill for $741.65 worth of lingerie charged to a Victoria’s Secret store in San Francisco on a store credit card that was not hers. The fraudsters also tried to get an extended line of credit on the card they had maxed out.

Young says she doesn’t shop at that store and hadn’t been to California.

“I’m just thankful that I caught it,” said Young, who retired from NCR. “I watch my bills very closely.”

In June she asked for help from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office, which assisted her in disputing the charges with the store and Comenity Bank, which had issued the card.

Comenity spokeswoman Rachel Stultz wouldn’t address specific cases but said the company’s priority is to “quickly and fully resolve any claims of fraud and identity theft brought to its attention” and that victims are not held responsible for fraudulent activity.

Young, who has no idea how thieves got her personal information, got the matter resolved by August and chose to hire a credit monitoring company.

“I don’t know how many more are going to come up — or how long,” said Young. “I don’t have a lot of money, but clearly I have to pay to manage it for me.”

Sure enough, thieves tried again, and Young got an alert that someone had tried to open an Amazon account in her name.

A few weeks ago she got a threatening phone call from a man claiming to be from the IRS.

“He said, ‘You’re in trouble,’ ” said Young. “He said my reported earnings had been reported incorrectly. He said I owed them $3,000 and he said if I didn’t pay them I was going to be arrested for fraud.”

She said she hung up and called the number back only to be screamed at by the man, who said police would arrest her if she didn’t pay.

Young said she saw enough red flags to know the man was a fraud, but she worries about senior citizens or people who have illnesses who might fall for the scam.

“The widows are more of a target than anything,” Young said. “I think it’s awful. It’s shameful.”

View full experience