LANCASTER — Local law enforcement officials say identity theft is a nightmare that can ruin its victims’ lives.
Unfortunately for Maryanne Sicat, of Lancaster, she is living that nightmare.
“For the last three years, I’ve been trying to clean up my credit and fix my finances and rebuild financially because I had my identity taken and used at several places,” she said.
Sicat has received bills from stores and utility companies for goods and services she did not purchase. Also, she was buying a television in 2013 at a big-box store and her telephone number came up under the name of a California man.
“One time is OK,” Sicat said. “The second store makes you wonder. But then every single store that I went to Christmas shopping, it was the same thing. So that’s why I started checking into it more.”
She has the name of the person she thinks is using her information but has no idea how the person got her phone number. So Sicat filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and the Lancaster Police Department, and she has become another identity fraud statistic.
The FTC said identity fraud is the top complaint it has dealt with in the past 13 years. It received 369,132 such complaints in 2012, or 18 percent of its total complaints. Identity fraud dwarfed complaints about debt collectors, which was in second place with 199,721, according to information the FTC provided.
Fairfield County Sheriff Dave Phalen said there have not been a large number of identity fraud and identity theft cases locally. However, that is little consolation to Sicat and others like her.
“Everything’s on credit,” she said. “So you can’t do anything. You can’t buy anything. It’s embarrassing, and it’s extremely frustrating because it makes me paranoid. I don’t trust anybody.”
What is identity fraud? Detective James Nicolia, of the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office, said identity fraud is when a person uses another’s identity for financial gain or to receive services illegally.
“If I were to go and take the sheriff’s name, for example, and get cable or phone service put into his name for my residence,” he said. “That is identity fraud and identity theft.”
Nicolia said a common reason someone becomes a victim is because they are not careful with their identification.
“You get a bill in the mail or a credit card offer, you throw in the trash,” he said. “It makes its way to the trash, and anybody can come along and take it at that point in time. It’s open property for anybody, and they can get a lot of your pertinent information that way, obviously. You get those credit offers — shred it.”
Phalen said identity thieves also can get information from telephone or email solicitations. He said thieves are looking for birth dates and Social Security numbers.
Lancaster Police Chief Dave Bailey said another scam is when a thief will email someone claiming they have won a lottery or prize, oftentimes from a foreign country. However, there is no such prize.
“Before they’ll release the ‘prize,’ they’ll send you an email, a fraud of course, and say, ‘You need to pay us $2,200 American to pay for the European tax on your winnings. We also need your Social Security number, date of birth and your current address to verify your identity and where to send the check.’
“So you’ve just sent them $2,000 and you provided them your identifiers. Now they can get you two ways: They’ve got your cash and they can steal your ID. I don’t think people think of those things as part of the ID theft process, but they are.”