Identity Theft – Tales from two who were targeted

RANDI F. MARSHALL AND HENRY GILGOFF (Newsday)
6/26/2005 – Several years ago, a man walked into a Chicago car dealership wanting to buy an expensive car. He said his name was Aaron Meyer and produced Social Security numbers, credit card information and other details to prove it.

But the salesman was suspicious as the man continued to negotiate and called the phone number he found listed for Aaron Meyer – in Jamaica Estates.

Meyer’s mother, Cheryl, answered the phone and was told that Aaron was in a showroom in Chicago and wanted to buy a car.

“I said, ‘My son is here in Queens,'” Cheryl Meyer recalled.

She described Aaron, a white 23-year-old. The man in front of the salesman was black and older.

To stop an identity thief

That put a stop to the identity thief’s efforts. But he had already racked up more than $10,000 in credit card charges in Meyer’s name and rented an apartment in his name on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive. He changed Meyer’s address, ordered new credit cards and charged money to those, too.

“I was really angry about it,” recalled Aaron Meyer, now 28 and living in Lynbrook. “I couldn’t believe the guts this guy had.”

It took Meyer, an investment manager, six months to straighten out his credit cards, bank accounts and other records. “They wouldn’t believe me that I was myself,” he said.

Meyer was most upset to learn that some of his credit card companies were not asking for the password he had specifically set up to avoid having his accounts misused. They would simply ask for his Social Security number, he said.

Ever vigilant victim

Since the incident, Meyer has used a shredder for all documents with personal or financial data. He also checks and double-checks that his passwords are on his accounts and being requested by customer service agents at his credit card companies.

“Make sure they don’t just ask for your Social Security number,” Meyer advises. “It’s just too easy.”

Having her identity stolen was frightening. Hearing an impostor ask a credit-card issuer for money in her name was eerie.

Erika Doolittle’s encounter with identity theft stretches back several years, she said. But it surfaced recently in a prosecution by the office of Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon that led to a Nassau woman pleading guilty to an identity theft felony charge and sentenced in April to five months’ imprisonment and five years’ probation.

Bob Emmons, criminal frauds bureau chief for Dillon, estimated that $25,000 in fraudulent charges had been made, affecting at least 10 Long Islanders.

Doolittle, of Rockville Centre, didn’t lose any money – just her sense of security.

Paying price beyond money

“You feel so invaded,” she said. “I had nights I wasn’t sleeping. I got sick to my stomach.”

She worried that the thieves also might be able to take money from her bank account, try to burglarize her house and even put her two children – now 4 and 7 – at risk.

At first, the identity theft seemed fleeting. She opened a cell phone account through a local retailer about seven years ago and quickly received a $1,000-plus bill, compared to the $80 or so she had paid in previous accounts.

Almost all that amount was for phone equipment that she had not ordered and was sent to an unfamiliar address. She filed a police report and also the requested written affirmations that she had not authorized the purchases. She arranged for a temporary fraud alert on her credit report, too.

Within the next two years, however, credit-card issuers began contacting her about delinquent payments on accounts they said had been opened in her name. So she did what she had done before to address the fraudulent cell phone bill.

A bizarre turn

About the same time, Doolittle said the matter took a bizarre turn. A representative of American Express, with which she did have a credit card, called to continue a conversation she hadn’t started. Doolittle remembers being told the conversation had been disconnected as the caller who identified herself as Doolittle was asking to receive money through an Amex account.

Then the representative told Doolittle the impostor had called back. Doolittle was allowed to listen as the caller continued requesting the money, she said, until the Amex worker said the money would not be given; the real Mrs. Doolittle was on the phone.

Doolittle remembers her fury at the impostor. “My heart was racing,” she said.

Kim Forde, spokeswoman for Amex, said she could not comment on individual cases.

With the passage of time without further incident, Doolittle said, “I feel more at ease.” But she still wonders how the fraudulent charges got through. “Where were those red flags that were supposed to go up?” she asked.

Protect yourself with these easy steps:

Don’t leave mail in your mailbox overnight or on weekends

Deposit mail in U.S. Postal Service Collection boxes.

Tear up unwanted documents that contain personal information.

paper shredding services