Identity Theft Can Be A Costly Crime

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The night of Jan. 11, 2002, "Ann" lost her identity. That's the night her purse was stolen out of her vehicle in Star Valley, and fell into the hands of an identity thief.

The morning after her purse was stolen, Ann not her real name said she contacted her credit card companies and notified them of her stolen cards. Ann was advised by a representative of VISA that someone had already tried to use her card in an automatic teller machine in Payson and again at Wal-Mart within two hours of the theft.

However, the thief did not have the PIN number at the ATM, and, after two attempts to withdraw money, VISA shut down the use of the card.

"That was a great thing," Ann said. "It kept them from using my card an hour later at Wal-Mart."

Little did Ann know the value of the other items in her purse, which included her Social Security card, checkbook, driver's license and even her birth certificate, which she carried for trips to Mexico.

Ann had no idea that her nightmare was only just beginning.

Jan. 14, Ann went to the bank to close out her checking account and open a new one.

Ann walked out of the bank a short time later with a new account, satisfied she had taken all the steps to protect herself.

Within 48 hours her new account had been raided of an estimated $2,000.

"I didn't even have checks or a bank card yet only counter checks, that's it," Ann said. "The thief was already stealing from my new account."

While applying for a new Social Security card, Ann told the officer of her episode, at which point she was advised to check for activity under her name with the three major credit bureaus.

While on the phone with the credit bureau, Ann learned just how persistent the bandit was.

"During the time, I was on the phone with the credit bureau, they told me as we were speaking, there were inquiries being made," Ann said. "(The credit bureau) then red-flagged my account so I would be notified if anyone was running a credit history."

Over the course of four weeks, Ann learned that the thief had opened accounts under her name with companies including First Consumer National Bank, NEXT Card, Spiegel and Victoria's Secret.

"By this time I had decided it was a female, because of the Spiegel and Victoria's Secret accounts," Ann said.

Ann was relentless in her effort to recover her stolen life.

The stress of what was happening was affecting not only Ann, but her marriage and lifestyle.

"I chased her day after day ... after day ... every day," Ann said. "I was consumed by it before work, during breaks, on my lunch hour and after work. I have tons of notes written on everything from scrap paper to napkins."

The stress, however, was taking its toll.

"I spent a month looking over my shoulder in fear ... I knew they had to know where I lived ... they knew everything else," Ann said.

One month to the day after her purse was stolen, Ann learned that her identity clone had applied for a $500,000 loan ... it was the beginning of the end.

"She would have gotten it, had it not been for an incomplete document," Ann said.

She received a phone call from City Financial which advised her they needed additional information to complete her application for the half-million-dollar loan.

It was then Ann learned of a P.O. Box and a physical address in Payson the thief was using to have merchandise and credit cards mailed to in Ann's name.

"I called Detective Havey (Gila County Sheriff's Office) and told him 'I have her,'" Ann said.

Havey and Ann remained in constant contact, exchanging information as the case was being investigated.

At 5:05 p.m. Feb. 13, Detective Havey served a search warrant on the residence of 24-year-old Tiffany Vernon on East Bonita.

Havey said he recovered evidence from the home which tied Vernon to documents forged with the use of Ann's personal information.

Vernon was arrested on forgery charges. The computer believed to have been used to perpetrate the crimes was seized along with numerous items of evidence which may tie Vernon to a number of other innocent victims from the Payson area people who may not yet know their identity may have been stolen in the same manner Ann's was.

Vernon, according to Det. Havey, confessed to stealing mail from as many as 11 community mailboxes in the Payson area, including Diamond Point Shadows.

"We don't know how many victims (like Ann) there are," Havey said. "It will take time to sort through all the evidence."

Ann's reaction to the arrest was more than relief.

"I cried tears of joy," Ann said. "I had spent a month not being able to sleep, constantly crying, mentally and physically exhausted, emotionally distressed."

Ann's battle is not over. It may take her as long as two years to straighten out the mess. It is too early to tell what the financial damages are.

She did, however, offer words of advice.

"Lock your doors, lock your car," she said. "Payson is not what it used to be. Protect yourself protect your identity."

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