Residents of Kahler Ridge can lock up their cars and their houses to protect them from thieves, but their good credit is something else. Wilmington Police Department Detective Matt Kiebles is investigating five reports of identity theft from close neighbors of the subdivision, and he expects to receive two more formal reports this week.
Identity theft occurs when someone uses another individual's personal information, such as a name, social security number or bank account number without the owner's knowledge, to commit fraud or theft, according to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's identity theft web pages.
Identity thieves might steal bank or credit cards and use them, steal mail containing account statements or pre-approved card offers, buy personal information from employees of businesses like stores and restaurants, or gather information off the internet. They then use the information to open bank or credit card accounts in the victim's name.
According to Det. Kiebles, the Kahler Ridge victims live a stone's throw, literally, from one another. The first report came in July, and all was quiet until September when three more residents filed identity theft reports. Another came in November, and the detective has heard from two more potential victims whom he expects to come in and file reports.
In each instance, an individual opens a credit account at a major retail store using a fraudulent driver's license in the victim's name, immediately makes charge purchases nearly totaling the credit limit, and then never revisits the account.
The perpetrator or perpetrators don't discriminate - the charge accounts are opened in low- to high-end stores, including Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Home Depot, Macy's and Nordstrom's.
Multiple charge accounts and thousands of dollars later, the victims receive credit cards in the mail for accounts they didn't open, and bills for the purchases.
The personal information used is not always current, and some has proven to be 10 to 12 years old, including old addresses and maiden names.
"I cannot figure out how these people are getting this information," Det. Kiebles said. "... It doesn't make sense; why would you do all that research to find old information when you've got new?"
Many of the charge accounts were opened locally, in Joliet, Bolingbrook and Schaumburg. Others were created out of state, in stores in Texas, Indiana and Tennessee.
The same offender is involved in at least two of the local cases. The Wilmington Police Department has obtained surveillance video from retail stores that provides a view of the individual's face, as well as information about the vehicle the offender left the store in.
"I do have a lead, as long as I can follow it it should shed some light on some of the cases," he said. He is confident he'll be able to identify the suspect who was caught on camera.
Det. Kiebles said an individual could be responsible, or a multi-state network. The most perplexing aspect is the close geographic relationship between the victims.
The victims' losses range from $5,000 to $15,000, Det. Kiebles said. He has followed up with the out-of-state law enforcement agencies who are working on the case in their respective jurisdictions.
The detective has also asked for assistance from the Illinois Attorney General's office. Attorney General Madigan has an identity theft hotline at 866-999-5630 where victims of identity theft can get one-on-one assistance with reporting the crime to local law enforcement and financial institutions, repair their credit and prevent future problems.
The attorney general's website, illinoisattorneygeneral.gov, also includes tips for protecting credit, complaint forms and resource guides for consumers.