Monday, March 24, 2014

Everyone pays price of ID fraud

She had $4,000 of yet-to-be-billed charges from Bowling Green and Hendersonville, Tenn. on her card.

Johnson called the police in both cities. Bowling Green police went to Kohl's that night to check video surveillance. A woman, also named Dana Johnson, had used her own ID and Johnson's Social Security number to make purchases without physically having a Kohl's card with her.

"I don't know that I'll ever know how she got my information," Johnson said.

Johnson found that the other woman also had opened accounts and racked up $1,000 at Target in Hendersonville and $1,201.10 at Macy's in Bowling Green, and tried to open an account at TJ Maxx. Many of the purchases were jewelry and toddler clothes and toys r us credit card.

When Johnson asked a representative from Kohl's how the other Johnson had spent $4,000 on her Kohl's card when she has a $1,500 limit, the representative told her the woman had made a payment with a check. It wasn't until several days later that they found the check was bad.

Johnson called each store and the credit bureau to prove that the person who made those large purchases was not her.

"This made me furious. I was just absolutely appalled," Johnson said by phone from Louisville.

Kohl's even sent Johnson a thank you note for spending such a large amount. She said it was "like rubbing salt in the wound," even though the people responsible for sending those notes to customers likely had no idea her identity had been stolen.

Johnson said she has always been cautious with all identifying information, such as her SSN and credit card numbers.

It also was troubling that the other woman had given the stores Johnson's old home address from four years ago as the address to send the bills. If Kohl's hadn't notified Johnson about the fraudulent activity, the stores would have sent bills to Johnson's old address without her knowing for an even longer time. The woman also changed Johnson's date of birth on her credit report.

"This was definitely not her first go-round," Johnson said. "She knew what she was doing. ... She had a nice little shopping spree right before Christmas."

The same Dana Johnson who used the identity of Johnson in Louisville also used the identities of various other Dana Johnsons in the country, including Florida, Connecticut and Kansas.

Dana Johnson of Lake Worth, Fla., made an unsettling discovery Jan. 15 when she checked her credit card account and saw another card had been opened Jan. 9. It was from Ashley Furniture. When she called the company about it, they told her it was a small charge and not to worry about it. By the next day, there was a $10,000 charge to Ashley Furniture.

Additionally, $507 was put on a card at Victoria's Secret in Franklin, Tenn., and $4,553 on a card created at Target for which the limit had been set at $2,500. She was denied a card at Babies "R" Us because the birth date she gave didn't match the SSN.

"If she had pulled this in the fall, she could have messed up me buying my home," Johnson, who recently purchased a home with her husband, said by phone from Lake Worth.

Bowling Green police arrested Dana Albertha Johnson, 28, 3218 Silvercreek Ave., Apt A, on Jan. 10 and charged her with being a fugitive. She was released from jail Jan. 14. She was arrested again Jan. 17 and charged with one count of receiving stolen goods valued at more than $10,000 within a six-month period, fraudulent use of a credit card over $10,000 within a six-month period, 13 counts of identity theft, two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, receiving stolen goods valued at $500 or more but less than $10,000 within a six-month period, possession of stolen mail matter and receiving stolen property valued under $500.

She is in Warren County Regional Jail, awaiting her day in court.

Everybody pays

Brian Strow, an associate professor of economics at Western Kentucky University, said the individual victims of identity fraud aren't the only ones who pay a price.

"Identity fraud or fraud in general increases the cost of all items," Strow said.

Costs that companies incur by someone stealing another's identity and using that to make purchases have to be covered, Strow said. Companies often pass the costs onto customers.

Last year, there was a new victim of identity fraud every two seconds, totaling about 13.1 million, according to a report by Javelin Strategy & Research. That's about 500,000 more victims than in 2012.

"I think the increase in identity fraud has stemmed from an increase in online purchases," Strow said.

More traffic on Internet stores makes it easier for someone to hack information and use it fraudulently, Strow said.

The Javelin study showed 44 percent of all fraud involved online transactions.

"It's pretty hard to steal my identity if I'm going into a store and paying cash. There's no data," Strow said. "As soon as someone pays with a credit card, the door is now opened to steal that data."

Strow noted the security breach Target stores across the country experienced after Black Friday, during which numerous customers' credit card numbers were compromised. Strow said he believes Target and other retail stores used that incident as "a wake-up call" to increase security.

"It's in retailers' interest to make sure they offer secure online financial services," Strow said.

No matter how many precautions companies take, though, they can't guarantee protection of consumers' identities.

"The best thing is for each individual to be on their guard," Strow said.

Visiting and shopping on reputable websites and not responding to emails requesting credit card information are some ways people can prevent identity theft.

One-third of consumers who received a data breach notification in 2013 became a victim of fraud, according to the study. In 2011, it was one in five consumers.

Although there was an increase in the number of identity fraud victims from 2012 to 2013, identity thieves stole less money in 2013. In 2012, criminals stole $21 billion with another's identity. That amount fell to $18 billion in 2013.

Accounts on eBay and PayPal also are increasingly becoming targets of fraud. Thefts through eBay and PayPal accounts totaled about $5 billion in 2013, which was tripled from 2012, according to the study.

People committing fraud are growing more likely to take over existing bank or credit card accounts - such as Johnson's Kohl's card - than to open a new account using someone's personal information. In 2012, 24 percent of identity fraud losses occurred through existing bank or credit card accounts. A year later, 28 percent of identity fraud losses occurred in that way.

Since having her identity stolen, Dana Johnson of Louisville has fraud alerts placed with each of the credit bureaus associated with the stores where she has cards and where the other Johnson opened accounts. She also checks her reports often. Johnson is whittling down the amounts on her credit cards and is not opening any more at stores.

"That won't prevent (someone) from opening an account, but it's easier for me to monitor," Johnson said.

Dana Johnson in Lake Worth said she now refuses to put her SSN on anything, such as forms at the doctor's office. When she opens a card with a store, if it has a Visa or American Express logo on it, she'll send it back and ask for one that can only be used at the store and not for any other purchases.

Dana Johnson in Lake Worth said the feeling she had during the incident was like she was being punished for having good credit.

"It's just frustrating," she said. "You don't know the person, you don't care to know them, but you feel invaded. ... you're the one defending yourself when you've done nothing wrong."

The Dec. 13 and Dec. 14 shopping spree, allegedly conducted by Dana Albertha Johnson, has cost Johnson in Louisville a lot of time and hassle.

"I had excellent credit. Not sure I do anymore," she said.

Around the time of the incident, Johnson was making payments on some furniture, so she quickly paid it off and closed out the account before another Dana Johnson or someone else could use that information.

"I'm just fortunate I didn't have to make any big purchases right now or get a loan for anything," Johnson said.

Although Johnson is doing all she can to be even more cautious than she was before her identity was stolen, what happened was beyond her control.

"I'm not sure what I could've done differently to prevent this," Johnson said.

Things could have been much worse if the other woman had used more than just store credit cards, she added.

"I consider myself very lucky," Johnson said.

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