LOCKPORT – The two things law enforcers often find about identity theft is that they can come in bunches, and they are often connected.
In Lockport, police are dealing with the first, but still aren’t sure about the second.
Over the past month, police have received more than a dozen complaints of identity fraud but have been unable to find any common links.
Unlike cases in the Town of Tonawanda, which appear linked to a single restaurant or a single bank, Lockport Police Chief Lawrence Eggert said this does not appear to be the case in Lockport.
“It’s across the board. There’s really no rhyme or reason,” he said.
Eggert said police handled 17 to 18 cases in the past month, but said the issue was underlined a few weeks ago when officers started getting one or more reports each day. He said the number has slowed since then.
“We get reports like this all the time, but for us to get so many at one time, it really is unusual,” he said.
Reports from the Lockport Police Department show customers from M&T Bank, Key-Bank, Barclay’s Bank, Summit Federal Credit Union, First Niagara Bank, Citi Bank and Woodforest Bank all have reported unauthorized charges with debit and/or credit cards. In some cases, a stolen identity was used to open various store credit cards and even utility services. These fraudulent purchases were made online, across the country and also in Canada, according to police.
In one case, a Lockport woman said police in Roanoke Rapids, N.C., contacted her when a suspicious woman had used her personal information to open a line of credit at Kay Jewelers. When an employee called the police, the woman left the store and was not caught, but the victim said she has received thousands of dollars in bills after six store credit cards were opened in her name. She said her existing Kohl’s card had been used without her permission.
Several victims noted the use of duplicated credit cards.
An Akron Street woman told police Jan. 21 that she used her Citi/Mastercard at a Rite Aid in Lockport and, a few minutes later, someone in Michigan used her card fraudulently, charging $543.
An Allen Street woman said she opened her mail and found an electric bill for a Texas utility account that was opened in her name, from August to December, with an unpaid balance of nearly $1,000. The victim said she has never been to Texas.
Eggert said police are not immune to this problem, noting that an officer in his department was the victim of a Craigslist scam and had his own identity scammed when someone was able to hack into his online cell-phone account and buy $1,000 worth of phones.
Eggert said police are hoping for a national response to the problem. He said that, on a local level, these cases are almost impossible to investigate because the victim is in one part of the country and the suspect, who committed the crime, is somewhere else. The cost of transporting victims to testify makes it prohibitive.
“It becomes easier for the banks just to shut down credit card accounts, issue a new one,” said Eggert. “It’s very difficult to follow up.”
Drawing an analogy with home security, Eggert said people think nothing of purchasing a dead bolt door lock or setting a timer so their lights go on. He said consumers should think of their accounts and identities the same way.
• Check your own and your family members’ credit ratings and run a credit check on your name to watch for unauthorized accounts.
• Change passwords frequently.
• Secure credit/debit cards in sleeves that don’t allow card information to be scanned by readers that access magnetic strips.
• Watch for people who have access to your card that may use skimmers to illegally access information that then can be sold to a third-party.
Eggert said people should also be aware if they receive any notices of changes of passwords without their authorization.
He said victims should immediately contact their banks and then report fraudulent activity to the police, who will help walk you through the steps you need to do to protect yourself in the future.
“Mostly, just be careful,” Eggert said. “It’s a different world out there, but if you stay vigilant and act immediately, that usually diffuses it.”