Identity theft can happen to you
by Debbie Rolen Staff Writer
Personal information is scattered in many directions and individuals fall prey to outside forces who claim their information and use it to their benefit. But family doesn’t have to go far to gain access to enough information to accomplish the task. In the case of a Delbarton couple, they suspect having tax returns stored on the shelf in a closet gave their identity thief the information needed to perpetuate the crime that changed their lives forever.
Pam and William Smith never thought they would have a problem with identity theft. The two were high-school sweethearts who married right after graduation. They set up housekeeping, worked, had two children and lived the American Dream.
More than forty years later, with no mortgage or credit card bills, the retired couple decided to take out a small loan for some home improvements. After their credit report was accessed, a problem came to light and the Smiths were called in to the bank.
“Smith is such a common name and there are so many mistakes made, we thought maybe that was it, but it wasn’t,” said Mrs. Smith.
The credit reports revealed Mrs. Smith and her husband had been victims of identity theft, many times over, since 2009. There were nearly a dozen accounts set up using either her or her husband’s Social Security number. All over the reports was a name familiar to the couple. It wasn’t some far-away computer hacker or dumpster-diving information thief who had stolen their identity, it was a trusted and very close member of the family.
The Smith family wants to protect the family from any additional pain by not revealing the identity of the thief. They want to warn others of how easy it can happen and caution them to take steps necessary to protect their family and financial well being. In addition, they want to express their difficulty with the process to reclaim a good name and credit rating as well as see justice done.
The confrontation with the thief had devastating and lasting consequences for the family. Until faced with the prospect of prosecution, the thief swore innocence. After the confession, the Smith’s asked why, but the only answer they got was “I don’t know.”
The accounts were set up using fraudulent addresses, so there were no statements delivered to the Smith’s house. Pam says the fraudulent charges for all of the accounts total approximately $12,000. None of the accounts ever had any payments made and some were turned over to collection agencies by the time the truth came out.
The collection calls started coming after the accounts were extremely delinquent and companies had traced the Social Security numbers on the accounts to their rightful owners.
“The calls got to be nonstop and the companies wouldn’t listen to me. Most of them talked to me like I was a criminal or a worthless human being. They didn’t care what happened, they just wanted to be paid,” said Pam.
Stress took a toll on the couple’s health. The constant stress and pressure Mr. Smith felt sent him to the hospital for chest pains, he was flown to St. Mary’s at Huntington for a heart catheterization and he currently takes medication. Mrs. Smith suffers from Type 1 Diabetes which has been made worse by the additional anxiety and depression she is currently tak ing medication for.
Having no knowledge of how to approach the problem, Mrs.Smith spent a lot of time trying to get someone to listen to her plight and give her direction. Of all the agencies contacted, Mrs. Smith says they received the most help from the W.Va. Attorney General’s office.
Mrs. Smith has a black duffle bag full of files for each fraudulent account that was set up and notebooks filled with notes of places she has called, who she talked to and what they said. She also has documentation for 82 additional attempts made by the same person to set up fraudulent accounts.
Complaints were filed with law enforcement, which proved to be a confusing and frustrating process. Mrs. Smith filed a complaint with the sheriff’s department. The Smith’s say they were pretty much out of the loop as to what was happening during the process. With the magistrate’s case still pending, Mr. Smith filed charges with the West Virginia State Police.
Ultimately, the thief served six months of a five-year sentence and is currently on probation.
“Our plans, hopes and dreams for our family were all destroyed,” said Mrs. Smith. “Our family will never be the same after this betrayal. We found out someone you love and trust can do something like this to you and have no remorse about what it does to you physically, emotionally or financially.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Javelin Strategy and Research, the average number of U.S. identity fraud victims annually is 11,571,900, or seven percent of American households. They define identity theft is defined as the unauthorized use or attempted misuse of an existing credit card or other existing account, the misuse of personal information to open a new account or for another fraudulent purpose, or a combination of these types of misuse. They report the total financial loss attributed to identity theft in 2013 is $21 billion.
What to do if you’re a victim of identity theft:
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