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 Grandmothers uncover identity thief

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Chibuike
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 16, 2008 4:22 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

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Sunday, Mar 16, 2008

Watchdog: Women uncover identity thief

By DAVE LIEBER Star-Telegram staff writer

One day, somebody stole mail from two residential mailboxes on the same street in a neighborhood off Fort Worth's Hulen Street.

The victims were two grandmothers who endured months of frustration while digging themselves out of the chaos caused by the mail thief.

These grandmothers are tougher than most, though. They tried to figure out who did it. They told the authorities, complaining to state and federal government agencies, police, postal inspectors, a bank and credit card agencies.

Then they waited for something to happen.

What was particularly frustrating was this: "Sometimes you can complain to everybody and nothing happens," said Corrine Jacobson, 80. "I wrote to everybody and did everything I was supposed to do, and nobody cared."

The other grandmother, Pat Kinder, 73, told me: "I just felt like nobody wanted to take the time to deal with me. It made you feel like you weren't worth anything."

But as I later learned, both women accomplished a lot more than they realized.

The thefts happened in June 2006.

Both women had unlocked mailboxes along the street in front of their homes.

Jacobson lost two checks from her investment adviser worth a total of about $1,000.

The thief walked into an OmniAmerican Bank in White Settlement, forged Jacobson's name and deposited the checks into somebody else's account.

When Jacobson realized that the checks had been stolen, she got a copy of the canceled checks from the bank. On the back, she saw her forged signature and beneath it, another name.

Jacobson figured that was the person who stole her checks.

But White Settlement police told her they couldn't find and prosecute the thief based on that evidence.

Police Sgt. S. Denham told me it wasn't for lack of trying. The woman whose name was signed to the check wasn't the same woman whose picture was taken by the bank's security camera. Police never could figure out who signed and deposited it.

"If we can't put a face and name to it, these cases go unsolved," Denham said.

Police also could not show any link between the person who forged the check and the person in whose account the money was deposited.

Kinder, who lost her mail the same day as Jacobson, reported the theft to Fort Worth police, who, in turn, referred the case to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which handles stolen mail.

But the thief made a mistake. The next day, Kinder checked her mailbox and found a change-of-address card inside. Someone tried to detour Kinder's mail to another address, making ID theft all the easier.

Now Kinder had a name and address to go with the crime.

"They were dumb enough to put the change-of-address card in there," Kinder said.

The thief went on a quick credit card spree, opening up at least 20 accounts in Kinder's name. Kinder knew because she began receiving the cards at her home since the change-of-address ploy hadn't worked. (It might not have worked even if Kinder hadn't found the card, according to the Postal Service. Because of increasing mail thefts, the Postal Service now double-checks change-of-address requests by mail with the people who file them.)

Most of the credit cards were in Kinder's name. But a few carried other names, and Kinder reported those to postal inspectors, too.

She also canceled every card as soon as it arrived. That went on for weeks.

"It was mentally exhausting," she says. "It took a lot of energy just to keep up with that."

One day, a woman knocked on Kinder's door and told her that she thought she had lost her mail and believed it was incorrectly diverted to Kinder's house.

Kinder couldn't believe what she was hearing. She shooed the woman away and told postal inspectors.

Postal inspectors asked Kinder to look at photos of suspects in other mail-theft cases. Kinder picked out the photo of the woman who came to her door.

"They were so brazen," she said.

Meanwhile, Jacobson spent six months trying to get her $1,000 back. She still can't believe that someone could forge her name on stolen checks and walk out of a bank with money.

A bank spokesman told me the forged signature couldn't be checked because Jacobson was not one of their customers. Neither the bank nor police could ever figure out who was responsible -- and whom to charge.

Both grandmas kept detailed files with logs of phone calls, letters to government agencies and the form letters they received in response.

"I've never dealt with police before," Kinder said. "I was devastated. I felt like I had really been hurt.

"I hear footsteps now, and I feel my heart pounding. It just affects your whole life."

But ultimately, the grandmothers' work proved worthwhile.

Postal inspectors identified a suspect, Monica Jo Kelley, 29, of White Settlement. They teamed with White Settlement and Fort Worth police, and after comparing notes, an inspector visited Kelley, who had several outstanding warrants.

Kelley denied involvement in the grandmothers' cases, officials say. But while being interviewed, police said, she admitted committing similar crimes involving other people.

Authorities couldn't tie Kelley to the grandmothers' cases; her name wasn't the one on the change-of-address card, though police surmise that that person may have been working with Kelley.

But the Tarrant County district attorney's office prosecuted Kelley in other cases. She pleaded guilty to forgery and credit card abuse and served eight months in jail, records show.

Kinder and Jacobson didn't think anyone cared. But the information they provided helped authorities put the pieces together, says Amanda McMurrey, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

"In this case, a crime was solved, and they did help," she said. "Small actions can certainly lead to much bigger things."

Now, the grandmothers have locked mailboxes.

They also understand that they played an important role in a mail-theft conviction.

"That makes me feel very good," Kinder says.

Small solace, but better than most.

News researcher Cathy Belcher contributed to this report.

Preventing mail theft

Postal authorities recommend:

Get your mail every day as early as possible. Don't let it sit overnight in an unlocked box.

Try to mail your bills from your office or from a secure mailbox. Avoid placing outgoing mail in an unlocked mailbox for the postal carrier to collect.

Ask that your mail get held while away on vacation. Register online at holdmail.usps.com.

Consider buying a locked mailbox for your home. Find models with an Internet search for "locking residential mailbox." Hardware stores sell them, too.

If you are really worried, consider getting a post office box.

Source: U.S. Postal Inspection Service


Go, go grannies!

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 16, 2008 4:56 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 16, 2008 6:06 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 16, 2008 8:06 pm Reply with quoteBack to top

Shame they had to do so much work themselves.
Glad we've mostly got letterboxes in our door in the UK

Its also quite difficult to get mail redirected, the post office usually want proof ie a bill AND a passport or driving licence as well as paymant
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