Cops warn of identity theft, scams

Highland — State police Investigator Yan Salomon is on the phone with an officer in Iuka, Miss. Together, they’re trying to intercept a UPS truck headed for a trailer in Mississippi.

There’s a package on board the brown truck — a cell phone supposedly ordered through Amazon.com by Danielle Lent of Highland.

Lent has never even been to Iuka. She’s never been to Nigeria, either, but she’s supposedly bidding on eBay.com and trying to ship stuff there, too.

Lent is just one of an increasing number of Hudson Valley residents falling prey to identity theft and prize scams. Fake checks, lottery notifications and computer hackers are striking a cross section of locals.

“It’s all walks of life,” said state police Investigator Rudolph Simmons of Troop F in Highland. “One of the biggest problems is that people feel embarrassed when they fall victim to it, and they don’t want to report it.”

In many cases, victims receive a letter from a fake online gambling company or financial institution. The letters look real, with phone numbers connecting winners to legitimate-sounding offices. Prize notifications often include a check and instructions to cash it and then mail a portion of the money back to the lottery service to cover taxes and processing. Then, the letters say, lucky winners will get the rest of their prize money.

In Lent’s case, police think someone either hacked into her family’s home computer via their unsecured wireless network, or she or her kids clicked on a site that allowed a computer virus to lift her passwords and expose her accounts.

“I was never one for changing my passwords. I had the same one for almost everything,” Lent said. “For safety reasons, I’m going to change everything.”

Lent counts herself lucky. She spotted the problem early because she regularly monitors her financial accounts. All the “shopping” seemed to take place between Oct. 28 and Oct. 31, she said. So far, she’s been able to reverse charges on all the fraudulent buys.

But she’d still like to know who her alter ego is. In her mind, it’s a man from Mississippi, or a slick Nigerian expatriate, or maybe just a kid from the neighborhood. She may never know.

State police and the cops in Iuka, Miss., are still working the case. Salomon said UPS would not cooperate yesterday, so they didn’t get to run a “controlled delivery” of the stolen cell phone. Police will be interviewing the residents at that address, he said.

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