|Identity Theft Victim Assistance Workshop
My wife and I would like to share our story, one of countless thousands that occur in our country every year the crime of identity theft. It is a crime which victimizes most often three different groups: the person (or persons) with stolen identity, the merchants who suffer financ ial loss, and the general public who absorb the cost of crimes through higher taxes and prices.
Most Americans enjoy the convenience of using checks and credit cards to perform daily financial business. But most of us, even though we read and hear about the dangers of identify theft, do not realize how easy it is for us to become a victim, either through our own negligence or through circumstances beyond our control.
It is important for you to hear our story, because this could have easily happened to anyone , since it was a random act of crime. It needs to be heard because of the frustration, betrayal and violation one feels after being victimized. And it needs to be heard because we are willing to take a stand for others to say that something must be done to protect others from being victimized in the future and to find a reasonable deterrent for this crime.
Our story began on Sunday evening, October 26, 1997 when the Gladstone, Missouri Police Department contacted my wife at home to question her regarding one of three check forgery suspects taken into custody. She immediately called my hotel in Washington, DC to confer with me as to how this might have happened. After validating the check numbers, we realized that we never had possession of the checks in question. These checks were to be the next series of numbers in a box of reordered checks, initiated earlier that week from our bank.
We immediately reported the checks stolen to United Missouri Bank and the Lees Summit Post Office Rice Station Annex on Monday morning, October 27. The bank determined that the checks, printed by Deluxe Check Printers Inc. in Lenexa, Kansas were mailed third class on Friday, October 24.
We were fortunate that because of the timely arrest of the suspects and notification of our bank that our checking account was closed before any of the forged checks cleared our bank. In hindsight it might have been more convenient for us had the checks cleared and the bank covered the loss through their insurance, which is what happens to most victims who find out much later than we did. It would have saved us from the year of hassles we had endured from merchants that took the sales loss es and their collection agencies.
A police report was filed with the Gladstone, Missouri Police Department. The case was turned over to the Clay County prosecuting attorneys office. We were not permitted access to the record since we did not file the report. The victim, Hy-Vee Food & Drug Store filed the report. Merchants filed at least two other police reports in Lees Summit, Missouri.
The reordered box of checks stolen contained 200 checks. Of that number, approximately 25 to 50 had been forged within a 10-day period, primarily at all major grocery stores in the Kansas City metropolitan area for thousands of dollars.
My wife Kay filed a complaint on Monday, October 27 with the U.S. Postal Services Postal Inspection Division in Kansas City, Missouri. A follow-up conversation with the postal inspector assigned to the case on December 31, 1997 revealed that five suspects had been arrested and that the federal government was looking for additional indictments. One or two were to be prosecuted at the federal level. A former U.S. Postal Service employee had stolen fifteen boxes of printed checks, belonging to fifteen different customers.
The three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Trans Union, and Experian) were contacted to place a fraud alert on our credit records.
There have been lessons learned during the year that followed the identity theft.
Initially, we learned first hand that when victimized by this crime, you quickly find out that you are not considered the victim by law enforcement agencies or merchants. They certainly can sympathize with your plight, but you are told that technically the merchants are the victims. The only thing stolen from us was a box of checks, which have no intrinsic value.
Second, no matter how good and law-abiding you feel you are, you will be constantly reminded by merchants and collection agencies through phone calls and letters that you are a "bad" person for passing bad checks. You will be threatened with legal action if you do not fully cooperate in remitting the amount due or providing forgery affidavits.
Third, you will spend a lot of personal time managing bank accounts, writing letters, talking on the phone, and obtaining forgery affidavits for an unspecified period of time. Our last encounter with a collection agency was November 1998, over one year since the crime was committed.
Fourth, we initially found that there was no single source of reliable information we could count on to aid us in correcting the situation. It is what I call the "YOYO" principle; that is, "youre on your own." Several miscues by different agencies resulted in lost time and conflicting information. What we thought was an unwelcomed letter of threatened prosecution from the Office of the District Attorney, Johnson County, Kansas turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We received invaluable information from their Check Division on the exact steps we should take to protect ourselves. Unfortunately, we did not receive this information until February, four months after the crime. We regret that we never received such help from any Missouri counties. It should be noted that each county separately investigates its own crimes, which adds to the humiliation and time involvement.
Finally, there are few good words to describe how victims of identity theft feel. There is the shock of finding out that your years of excellent credit are about to be dismantled by someone you may or may not know. There is anger from realizing that you now have become the target of merchants and collection agencies who want their money. Then there is the frustration of not knowing how long you will have to endure the emotional pain and suffering. Just when you think it is all over, you get another "letter" in the mail or "phone call." And last, but not least, one feels the disgust, bewilderment, and injustice that the punishment for identity theft does not fit the crime.
Our story may seem relatively uneventful and lack the sensational criteria for media attention, but from that year of experience we can now empathize with those who have been victims of this crime. It is impossible to put a price tag on the personal loss suffered, both emotionally and financially. We have read and heard many stories since then of individuals and families who have suffered much worse than we have. It is a crime that does not have closure for a very long time. The victim must be vigilant to assure every measure has been taken to clear his or her name of a bad report and reputation with creditors.
Law enforcement agencies and merchants that we have talked to share our concerns. It is appalling to know how easy it is to fake an ID and beat a financial system that was established to keep us from having to carry large amounts of cash. Our testimony before the Missouri Senate helped to pass the following Missouri revised statute, section 570.223 that went into effect August 28, 1999.
1. A person commits the crime of identity theft if he knowingly and with the i ntent to deceive or defraud obtains, possesses, transfers, uses, or attempts to obtain, transfer or use, one or more means of identification not lawfully issued for his use.
2. Identity theft is punishable by up to six months in jail for the first offense; up to one year in jail for the second offense; and one to five years imprisonment for the third or subsequent offense.
3. In addition to the provisions of subsection 2 of this section, the court may order that the defendant make restitution to any victim of the offense. Restitution may include payment for any costs, including attorney fees, incurred by the victim:
Though we were happy with the passage of the legislation, we do not feel assured that it is adequate to address the growing victimization. It would certainly not help in a case like ours since we were never legally provided the names of the criminals.
As we enter the 21st century, we will see new technological marvels that will increase our ease to purchase goods and services and provide greater financial benefits. We will also likely see new technological schemes by criminals to defraud consumers of their financial resources and excellent financial history.
We must have laws that protect our freedoms to responsibly use our social security numbers; credit, checking and savings account numbers; and other important personal data from criminals who are waiting for their next victim upon whom to prey. We must also have a streamlined victims assistance program to minimize their burdens.
Thank you for allowing us to share this information.
Russell E. & Kay Klement