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Thieves steal identity, go on spending spree

Bank account, credit card and Social Security card hijacked
By: Joyia Emard, Loomis News Staff Writer
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A Loomis woman is trying to put her financial life back together after her identity was stolen. “It’s been hell,” said Paula Morgan. While Morgan is not being held responsible for fraudulent charges made in her name, she said she has spent hundreds of dollars and countless hours on the phone with banks, credit card com-panies and the three credit verification companies trying to get everything straightened out. Plus, she’s had to make trips to the Placer County Sheriff’s Office to file reports, the courts to have her name legally changed, the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a new driver’s license, and to the Social Security office. She is going to court this month to have her Social Security number changed. “Now, I have to use cash for everything. My credit score is ruined,” Morgan said. Morgan said the expenses and stress have “strapped” her household. She said her husband has a tile business, but has not been getting work, and she has been unable to find a job. “We were already struggling and this has only added to it. My husband keeps telling me, ‘We’ll get through this. We have our health,’” Morgan said. Morgan, the mother of five children, said she doesn’t know how criminals were able to get her Social Security number, driver’s license number, bank information and home address. “It’s really, really scary that they had all of that information and know where I live,” she said. Morgan said she was always very careful about shredding financial information and kept impor-tant documents safeguarded, yet crooks obtained her personal information and stole thousands of dollars in her name. “I shredded everything. I didn’t do my banking online or use credit cards for online ordering. I only had one credit card,” Morgan said. “I feel like a victim – like I’m going on this roller coaster that’s not going to stop. It’s a snowball and keeps getting bigger and bigger,” she said. In April 2009, Morgan’s bank statement was rerouted to a Fair Oaks address, a bank account in her name was opened and bogus checks were deposited. The account was only open a few months before it came to Morgan’s attention, but during that time, thieves were able to steal ap-proximately $5,000 from the bank. The thieves also took out a credit card in her name and charged $4,800, leaving the credit card company with the debt. “I don’t know if we’ll ever know the extent of damage they did using my name,” she said. A few months ago, Morgan was contacted by an El Dorado County Sheriff’s detective, who told her three people had been arrested for auto burglaries. He said the suspects had Morgan’s per-sonal information, including her social security number, drivers license number and home ad-dress. “Now, we’re tangled up in this web,” Morgan said. According to Lt. Brian Golmitz, El Dorado Sheriff’s spokesperson, two males and one female were arrested on Aug. 28 during a routine traffic stop. All had prior arrest records and were on searchable probation. Golmitz said charges against suspects James Milne, of Fair Oaks, and Ronald Quevedo, of Rancho Cordova, include burglary, pos-session of stolen property and grand theft. Both remain in custody. He said suspect Shannon Souza, of Rancho Cordova, posted bail. In all, he said, there are 18 victims. Morgan said she has “floundered” her way through the mess. She said two protective measures she’s discovered are to designate only one credit card with a small limit for online purchases or to use store-bought debit cards for online purchases. “I’ve never wanted to hurt anyone, but someone else did it using my name.” ----------------------- AVOID IDENTITY THEFT Do not carry extra credit cards, Social Security card, birth certificate, or passport, only as needed. Make photocopies of wallet contents. Online: Don’t click on links from financial institutions. Instead, go to browser and type in institu-tion’s domain name. Install virus and spyware detection software and keep updated. Enable computer to download latest patches and fixes. Install a lockable mailbox at home. Destroy credit card or ATM receipts, bank statements, pre-approved credit offers. Never leave purses or wallets unattended at work, church, restaurants, health clubs, parties, or shopping carts or in plain view in car. Destroy all checks immediately after closing a checking account. Destroy or keep in a secure place any courtesy checks sent by bank or credit card companies. Do not allow new checks to be mailed; pick them up at the bank. Check credit card and bank statements, challenge any fraudulent purchases. Limit the number of credit cards, and cancel any inactive accounts. Never give any credit card, bank, or Social Security information to anyone by phone, unless posi-tive call is legitimate. Scrutinize utility and subscription bills to verify charges. Memorize passwords and personal identification numbers. Notify the company immediately if billing statements are not received. Source: fightidentitytheft.com IDENTITY THEFT RECOVERY Keep detailed records of names and conversations and copies of all correspondence. Place a fraud alert on credit reports and order a free copy, then review it. TransUnion 800-680-7289; Equifax 800-525-6285; Experian 888-397-3742. Speak with the security or fraud department to close accounts opened fraudulently or tampered with. When new accounts opened, use new Personal Identification Numbers and passwords. File complaint with the Federal Trade Commission 877-438-4338. File a report with local police. Source: Federal Trade Commission website