Lunch program targets identity theft prevention

Published 6:00 am Monday, January 30, 2006

A Brookhaven resident was taken for more than $50,000 when heridentity was stolen while on a trip to Hawaii.

Merlene Myrick, chief nursing officer for King’s DaughtersMedical Center, told her story to the approximately 50 people whoattend the Lunch And Learn program to learn about identity theftFriday at KDMC.

“I’m not an expert by any means. I’m just here to tell you mystory so, maybe, it won’t happen to you,” she said to open hercautionary tale.

Myrick attended the wedding of her son in Hawaii in March 2005.Following the wedding she and the other family members decided tostop for pizza on the way to the airport. She put her purse in thetrunk.

While there, all the men noticed “a beautiful” young womanleaning against the wall. They would later learn she was a lookoutfor thieves who popped the lock on the trunk and stole Myrick’spurse, along with cameras and video cameras. Myrick’s luggage wasalso “pilfered through.”

“The most important thing about reporting identity theft is toget a police report. It’s best if you can get it in thejurisdiction it was stolen in,” she said. “It shows diligence andresponsibility to the people you will be talking to when you try toget everything corrected.”

Myrick added that using a stolen credit card is not identitytheft. Identity theft occurs when they use information from thecard and other sources to apply for other cards.

In the months that followed, Myrick and her husband, Greg, wereplagued with purchases made in their names.

Every day for four days, $400 would be taken from their bankaccount to be paid on a credit card.

“Banks do not flag your account for your less than $400 and theyknow that,” she said. “Identity thieves know how to work thesystem.”

By making those substantial payments daily, the thieves hadquickly managed to increase the credit limit on her card to morethan $11,000.

The thieves even made their own checks on a computer by usinginformation found on the checks in her stolen purse. They also usedthe Internet to apply for other credit cards in her name.

“By the time it was over, I had more credit cards (in my name)than I knew existed,” Myrick said.

The thieves also used the Internet to do a genealogy search onher name. This enabled them to bypass the common security passwordson credit cards, such as mother’s maiden name, when speakingdirectly to credit card companies.

“When the companies called to verify information, they had it,”Myrick said. “I would suggest you put a password on your accountthat only you know.”

The thieves even contacted the Office of Vital Statistics andobtained her birth certificate.

In addition, for the first seven to 10 days after her card wasstolen, the thieves had her mail forwarded to a post office box inHawaii so she wouldn’t discover their new cards and could gathermore personal information for their use.

In the end, she said, law enforcement authorities have arrestedtwo girls, who are suspected of serving as lookouts and conductingthe Internet searches. Two males, suspected of making the break-inon the car trunk and other crimes, have not yet been charged whileagents make a stronger case against them, Myrick said.

The girl at the pizza restaurant was working as a lookout theday of the thefts, Myrick said. She has an arrest record with 10prior convictions, she said.

The raid on the hotel room where the group was staying nettedmore than 60 credit cards allegedly being used by the thieves, whowould change hotels daily and charge it on one of the cards.

And Myrick?

“I’ve been very fortunate,” she said. “The credit card companieshave been wonderful. They have really worked with me. All of thatmoney has been paid back to me.”

However, Myrick stressed that much of the duties of recoveringfrom identity theft is the responsibility of the victim. Among thefirst steps any victim must take immediately are to contact thecredit card companies and banks they do business with. The victimmust also immediately report the crime to the Attorney General’soffice and the Social Security Administration so they can takesteps to safeguard what remains and to prevent damage whileconducting their own investigations.

Myrick then gave participants a lengthy packet produced by theAG’s office entitled “What To Do When There’s More Than One Of You”detailing steps people can take to prepare themselves for apossible identity theft and what to do if they become a victim.

Hallie Brooks, of Loyd Star, attended Friday’s luncheon and saidthat after hearing the tale Myrick told, and a few less damagingstories by other participants, she would definitely implement manyof those changes.

“I thought it was very informative,” Brooks said. “I thinkeveryone should hear it. There are a lot of small things I neverwould have thought of. The first thing I’m going to do is change mychecks.”

Barbara Lloyd, of Loyd Star, said she was going “to doeverything I can” to safeguard her identity.

The next Lunch And Learn program will be held at noon March 12.The topic is grief support. The programs, held four times a year,are sponsored by the KDMC Foundation and the hospital. They arefunded through proceeds from the annual Duck Derby.