STOCKTON – When is a woman happy about her purse being stolen? When it leads to the prevention of a far worse crime.
As she was reporting the theft of her bank card to her local credit union last week, Cathy – not her real name – was informed that a prior request had been made to issue a duplicate of her bank card. This confused Cathy, because she had never ordered a second card.
Whats worse, she also learned that charges were being made on her card, including $1,295 at a Stockton Best Buy electronics store at the same time she was in the sauna at her gym. Had she not discovered this when she did, she fears her bank account could have been emptied.
The victim in this case, a 35-year-old registered nurse working for a public agency, spoke on condition of anonymity since she is the victim of identity theft as a direct result of the recent surge of mail thefts plaguing Stockton neighborhoods.
Cathy is convinced because of the timing of events that it is the mail thief, and not the purse snatcher, who fraudulently used her bank card.
A second victim was not so lucky. Mary – also not her real name – was unaware that someone called her major national bank to order a duplicate bank card. Unfortunately for Mary, the criminal apparently stole the duplicate card soon after it arrived in her mailbox and started using it. Before Mary could do anything about it, her checking account was overdrawn.
Mary, 45, is a single mother and also a registered nurse who works the overnight shift. She was not previously acquainted with Cathy, but both live just blocks apart in north Stockton neighborhoods that have suffered a plague of mail thefts and mailbox break-ins in recent months.
Cathy first became a victim when her group mailbox that provides 12 individually locked boxes for neighbors was busted open sometime during the second or third week of January. She didnt know what mail, if any, was stolen at that time, and she didnt think much about it until a month later.
On Feb. 16, Cathy parked in the lot outside her gym. When she came out to her car about an hour later, she discovered that her purse containing her wallet had been stolen from the locked trunk. Thats when she contacted her credit union to start monitoring her missing bank card for fraudulent activity and was informed that another card had recently been ordered and mailed to her home address.
Adding to the confusion, earlier this year Cathy had been informed by her financial institution that her card would be automatically replaced due to the massive security breach last fall involving 70 million Target customers nationwide. So Cathy was expecting and did receive a new bank card in the mail, but it turns out that card was the one that had been fraudulently ordered. The bank held up sending out a third card – the legitimate one – after Cathys purse was stolen.
Cathy still feels violated.
My Social Security card, my driver license, my nursing license, credit card, health insurance – I am so paranoid now. My whole life is in that wallet. Now Im worried about my Social Security number and my identity being used, she said. I am living in fear every day.
But Cathy believes that fate, in the body of the purse snatcher, had a hand in protecting her from even more heartache, such as that suffered by Mary.
Because of her work schedule, Mary didnt always get to her unlocked mailbox – grouped with other unlocked mailboxes – every day. When she did collect her mail, she noticed several times last month the door was left open. During one period, she had no mail for three straight days.
This is very unusual for it to be empty. I havent gotten my W2 earnings, my mortgage taxes and other things for taxes. I am alert now on my mail, Mary said. Unfortunately, her vigilance came too late.
I am really, really afraid now these people have all my information, what Ive earned in a year – and I have nothing, she said.
Thats because, what Mary learned to her horror starting around 1 am during a lunch break from work, was that someone using a duplicate bank card was going on a shopping spree along Trinity Parkway and other north Stockton locations.
When Mary went to use her debit card, it was declined. She knew she had $700 in her account, so she called her bank and was told her account was overdrawn by $47. When she went online, she saw charges for Walmart in the amounts of $483, $108 and $67. There were more charges later that night – $75 at a minimart/gas station, a video rental and, finally, at 4:35 am two charges at a fast food restaurant for $15 and $6.
And, Mary said, although her bank assured her they canceled her card when she called at 1 am, the criminal accessing her account had managed to get her card issued with a different account number. And that new number had not been canceled. It was used until Marys account was overdrawn by $212 before it was finally declined for good.
Mary said she learned over the course of many days and dozens of lengthy phone calls that the criminal who ordered a new card in her name had told her bank there was fraudulent activity on the debit card Mary was using.
After Mary reported the fraud to police, she ran into two bicycle patrol officers who told her that they, too, had been victims of similar identity theft.
This whole thing is really crazy. Its just a big mess, she said.
The criminal or criminals responsible for Marys situation also managed to go online and change the user name on her online banking account so she could no longer access her information.
For several days before Marys paycheck was electronically transferred into her now-compromised account, she had no cash for gas or groceries for her family.
Her bank has restored some of the fraudulent charges against her account and has assured her they will restore them all once the investigation is complete. But in the meantime, Mary said last week, My life is on 72-hour hold. Ive just been so scared wondering who is doing this to me, she said.
Jeff Fitch, a spokesman for the US Postal Inspection Service, said the crimes committed against Cathy and Mary show a certain level of sophistication, but they still remain crimes of opportunity.
This is one where they are able to turn a profit, to get some money. The real key to these investigations is reporting these incidents to police and to our office as well. The fact is the clues are critical information for the postal inspectors and detectives in their investigation, even if it is 30 days, 60 days after the fact, Fitch said.
Its something we see, and we understand the amount of work faced by the victims to undo the damage by these mail thieves, he said.
To report a crime involving the mail or a mailbox – a federal felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine – contact local police as well as the US Postal Inspection Service at (877) 876-2455; online at postalinspectors.uspis.gov; or obtain a theft complaint form at any post office.
Contact reporter Joe Goldeen at (209) 546-8278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.recordnet.com/goldeenblog and on Twitter @JoeGoldeen.