Durham Identity Theft Victims Warn Others
Posted August 7, 2002 9:35 a.m. EDT
DURHAM COUNTY — Identity theft is a crime that strikes an estimated 15,000 to 30,000 victims each year in North Carolina.
The Federal Trade Commision said the crime costs businesses over $100 billion a year.
Crime prevention experts said identity theft happens so often because it is so easy. A name, Social Security number and date of birth; it is all the information thieves need to rob someone of their identity.
"Even though we haven't been physically abused, mental abuse over two years takes its toll," victim Brenda Hayes said.
In December 2000, someone stole those three pieces of information from her husband, Denis Hayes, disrupting the Durham couple's lives ever since.
"Frustration and anger. De spair. That's right, despair. Nothing you do seems to help," Denis Hayes said.
Police suspect Trent Spencer, and possibly other people, ordered credit cards, bought thousands of dollars in electronics and merchandise, took out bank loans and even rented an apartment under Denis Hayes' name.
When the bills were not paid, the couple took the heat from aggressive collectors.
"The phone calls, when they first start, you're like 'Oh no. Not again," Denis Hayes said.
The couple fought the retailers and filed fraud alerts with the credit companies. They blame businesses that gladly give out credit to imposters and then treat the victims like criminals.
"We fill out this four-page form for them to prove that we weren't the people that defrauded them, and they won't give us anything. But, if they would just do this much at the point of sale or the point of origin, it wouldn't happen to begin with," Denis Hayes said.
"And I just sat down and cried. I mean, I was like 'This is never going to end,'" Brenda Hayes said.
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper agrees that businesses need to do a better job verifying personal information. He is pushing legislation that focuses on criminals and consumers.
House Bill 1100 would toughen penalties for those who illegally sell personal information. It would also make it easier for victims to sue for restitution.
"We've seen instances where homes have been mortgaged and people didn't even know it," Cooper said.
"When we get a good identity case, we find, lots of times, a person has multiple identities that he's used," said Sgt. Gary Hinant, a Raleigh fraud investigator.
Take Spencer, for example. In addition to the Hayes' case, Spencer is also accused of stealing the identity of UNC student Todd Campbell.
Investigators said Spencer used the information to buy a Lincoln Navigator, a luxury Campbell could not afford.
"That was anger there in that how can they have a nicer car than me?" Campbell said.
According to police, the most common place identity thieves strike is the garbage. They call it Dumpster diving. Once the trash hits the curb, it is open season on personal information.
For that reason, police recommend shredding every vulnerable piece of paper thrown away, including bank statements and credit card applications.
Mailboxes are another target for thieves. Experts suggest paying bills online or taking outgoing mail directly to the post office.
Use firewalls and other security measures to protect your information online.
Experts said most victims willingly hand over personal information. They suggest if anyone ever seeks you out to "update" information, beware.
The Hayes family believes someone with access to Denis Hayes' medical records started their avalanche of problems. Now that the damage is done, they want the suspect caught. They also want businesses to make it harder for criminals to cash in.
"I think what we have to do is change the system that is out there right now," Brenda Hayes said.
The Hayes family has been so diligent fighting the defrauded businesses, they have not had to pay for any losses; however, they said they have paid in frustration.