Mary and Wayne are from Northern California and are the first victims helped by the Identity Theft Council. This very sweet retired couple are the last people you'd expect to fall victim to identity theft. They don't own a computer or access the internet so they don't deliberately share their personal information online. They don't use email so are not vulnerable to phishing and other scams. And they don't bank or pay any bills online so they're not vulnerable to banking Trojans and other malware.
Yet for the last three years this couple has been fighting a simple case of identity theft that has, in their own words "completely ruined their retirement and their lives." It all started with a simple trip to a Sears store - Mary forgot her Sears card and so provided the store assistant with her name and address to help find her account.
But before they completed the transaction, Wayne decided it would be better to pay for the $14.99 sweater with cash. They continued with their afternoon shopping and never gave the incident another thought. Until a month later when they were notified by Sears that two new credit cards had been taken out in their names, and sent to different addresses.
And while Mary was mad as hell that Sears saw nothing suspicious in the new card applications and had never bothered to check with them first about their apparent address change, she was still relieved that the thieves had been thwarted, the new accounts closed, and she and Wayne owed nothing.
Case closed and a lesson learned, said Mary. But how wrong they were! A few months later, Mary and Wayne started receiving notices in the mail from a dozen stores across California demanding payment for checks they'd allegedly bounced.
Seems like the thieves were now using Mary and Wayne's name and address to print checks at home and using them to pay for goods in a State-wide spending spree. And because few stores actually verify that the account number on a presented check is real, the thieves made hay!
Then more letters – this time from bullying and heartless debt collectors threatening to ruin their credit and even have them arrested. That was followed by letters from three District Attorneys across the state demanding the couple pay restitution.
The nightmare has lasted three years so far. A typical day for Mary and Wayne is to collect the mail and hope that it doesn't include yet another threatening letter from a creditor or debt collector. "It's something we now dread," says Wayne.
And when the mail does contain yet another demand or notice, Wayne follows the same frustrating and time-consuming routine:
• Makes a copy of his identity theft affidavit.
• Completes another "form" letter explaining the crime and why it's not his debt or responsibility.
• Makes copies of any supporting documentation, like his police report.
• If necessary, pays a visit to the Notary to get his documents notarized.
• Puts in all in an envelope, takes it to the Post Office and sends it by certified mail to make sure he has proof he responded.
• Adds a copy of everything he just did to his growing case file that's swollen to nearly 12 inches deep.
Then they sit and wait for the response. And the next mail delivery.
"Law enforcement are almost as bad as the thieves"
In spite of the fact that law enforcement has so many case of identity theft to deal with, Mary and Wayne always thought their case would be taken seriously. After all, they had a great video and still photographs of the thief, walking out of a store after presenting a fake check.
They had an address used by the thieves as a drop for the stolen goods. And they even got news that one of the thieves had been arrested after trying return or "cash in" some of the goods purchased in Mary's name.
But according to Mary, law enforcement just seemed to make matters worse. Four different police departments just turned them away, even refusing to allow them to file a police report. One officer assured them that because they hadn't lost any money, they weren't actually victims and therefore he couldn't help them. "They just didn't care," said Mary.
So to summarize:
• Two unauthorized credit cards costing $10,400.
• Thirty seven bogus checks (so far) totaling more than $7,000.
• Twelve stores claiming the victims gave them bad checks.
• More than half a dozen debt collectors and check fraud companies to deal with.
• A criminal trail that winds through fifteen cities.
• District attorneys from three counties demanding restitution and threatening jail.
• Five different police departments to deal with, all but one very unsympathetic and unhelpful.
• A three-year battle, with Wayne devoting 20-40 hours a month for the last year.
In spite of all the work the Identity Theft Council has done for Mary and Wayne, their ordeal may be far from over. They received a letter from the District Attorney's Bad Check Restitution Program, demanding payment on one of the forged checks that they had formally disputed more than six months before.
The letter also required the couple to pay a fine, and to attend a course on why they shouldn't write bad checks – a course they would have to pay for. So the Council stepped in again to correct the situation and end the harassment.
Wayne and Mary then started to receive phone calls from someone claiming to be from the US Department of Grants informing the couple that they would be recipients of a stimulus grant under a new Obama initiative. The only catch was that the department could only pay the money directly to their bank account and therefore would require their account and routing number.
Mary and Wayne had learned their lesson by now and ignored the proposal, but they still wonder if it's all just coincidental bad luck, or are they being constantly targeted by the same gang.