Local News

Dunn tops national list for fraud, ID theft complaints

Posted May 3, 2012 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated May 3, 2012 8:47 p.m. EDT

— Nearly 23 years ago, Dunn was named an “All-American city” – one of only 10 cities in the nation to receive the honor. The place once known for its tobacco and logging has now become known for something else – fraud and identity theft.

The Federal Trade Commission released its latest report in February on consumer fraud-related complaints in the U.S. The Dunn metropolitan area ranked No. 4 in the country for consumer fraud complaints per capita and No. 5 nationwide for identity theft complaints.

Dunn ranked No. 1 in the nation for fraud and No. 3 for ID theft in 2010. Other North Carolina towns and cities made the list in 2011 as well.

From North Carolina’s attorney general to local law enforcement, no one can explain for certain why Dunn consistently makes the list. Some speculate that Dunn residents are better about reporting the crimes, while others say they think it's a matter of location.

“It ranks very high on our list of concerns. It not only costs consumers and businesses billions of dollars, but it costs people their good name,” said state Attorney General Roy Cooper. “Sometimes we can catch the criminal, but oftentimes the money is gone."

Dunn police Capt. Jimmy Pope said he attributes some of the crime to the city's location. “(Interstate) 95 runs through. (U.S. Highway) 421 runs through. We’re just miles from Interstate 40. Proximity to highways is probably a part of it,” he said.

Melody Price, the owner of downtown Dunn boutique Frox, said she was a victim of fraud less than two months ago after someone got into her store’s checking account through a PayPal account and stole less than $100. Fraud experts say small amounts of money are typically taken first, and then larger sums are stolen.

Price said she noticed that some money had been stolen, so she closed her account before the person could take more.

"I was fortunate, very fortunate. It could have been devastating for my business," she said. "If it works, they can wipe your account out. So, for me, it was frightening."

Despite her bad experience, Price says she finds it very surprising that Dunn is one of the nation’s top cities for fraud. “We’re a wonderful small town, so it’s a shame we’ve had to make a Top 10 list in that regard,” she said.

Cooper says today's technology makes fraud-related crimes easier to commit and harder to solve.

"Technology has been great for the economy. It's been great for education, but it has also been a tool for criminals. They now have more ways to rip you off," he said.

The largest crime category is identity theft, but other types include scams and credit card and health care fraud.

Goldsboro resident Stacey Brausch says she is familiar with fraud in Dunn. Someone stole her identity, including her name and Social Security number, and used it to open a cable TV account in an apartment in Dunn, 52 miles and two counties away from Brausch’s home.

Even though the person misspelled her first name, “Stace," and used a different last name, "Reekie," the cable company still granted the person service.

“They disregarded the signs,” Brausch said, adding that she discovered the fraudulent account was on her credit report as delinquent with an outstanding balance when a recent loan application was denied.

“I felt violated,” she said. “I’m shocked it’s that easy for somebody to be taken advantage of.”

Although Brausch has been cleared by the cable company, she continues to pay in time and aggravation and is still waiting for the delinquent account to clear from her credit report.

“I’m angry about it. I really am,” Brausch said. “It’s very frustrating, because I’m continuously paying for someone else’s wrong doing.”

Authorities say the person who opened the account is long gone and hasn't been caught.

“Changing names, changing addresses, it’s hard to find them,” Pope said.

The North Carolina Department of Justice website lists numerous ways to guard against fraud and ID theft. It also allows consumers to sign up for alerts about the latest scams.

Besides shredding old bank statements, insurance forms, credit applications and anything else that has personal information and account numbers, the attorney general says there are two more important things consumers can do.

First, opt out of receiving pre-approved credit card applications. Also, freeze credit information, which blocks access to credit unless the consumer gives permission. Consumers just need to remember to temporarily unlock it when applying for credit.