ID theft suspect has habit of renting heavy equipment

Identity theft takes many forms, but a San Francisco man was surprised to find himself on the hook for heavy equipment rentals he didn’t make.

“I know he’s rented a jackhammer, a car, and now a trailer,” Arik Cohen told KTVU, “so the guy’s having a great time.”

It all stems from the theft of Cohen’s wallet last fall. It was in his car, broken into in the Mission District. He immediately cancelled his credit cards and filed a police report, but within a few months he received a bill from Hertz Rentals in Berkeley, then a call from Hertz in Los Angeles.

“And they’re like, ‘when are you going to return the car?’ And I was like ‘oh no not again'”.

The thief rents vehicles and equipment, but doesn’t return anything, and it’s all in Cohen’s name. This week, it happened at a Petaluma rental company. Surveillance video shows a man entering Cal-West Rentals and plunking down Cohen’s driver’s license and a credit card to match.

“We got him on camera right here, and got him on camera driving out the gate,” manager Tyler Doherty told KTVU.

The suspect rented a 16-foot trailer; he said he needed to haul a car to Richmond. He also rented a brand new Honda generator. Neither was returned, and the loss to the company is more than $10,000.

 “We’re a small family-owned independent rental company,” lamented Doherty, “Some of these national companies have hundreds of car trailers like that, but we had one, so it’s going to come out of pocket.”

The rental transaction went through because the suspect bears a strong resemblance to Cohen, so the license didn’t arouse suspicion, and the credit card transaction went through.

Throughout the encounter, surveillance video shows the suspect calm at the counter, making no attempt to shield his face.

Petaluma police said his renting heavy equipment suggests he might work in construction, or know people in the trades who he can sell the stolen merchandise to. 

Now that he and his pickup truck with a camper shell have been caught on camera, investigators believe he’ll be apprehended.

“We’re all looking for him now,” Sgt. Paul Gilman told KTVU, “with his pattern of behavior, hopefully someone’s going to recognize the photograph and his vehicle is very easy to recognize.”

For Arik Cohen, it’s strange to finally see video of the man who has been impersonating him.

“I really hope this guy gets caught because he’s using my name all over the place,” declared Cohen.

And he wonders when his identity theft troubles will really end. Even after cancelling his cards and signing up for credit protection and alerts, somehow new cards are being produced in his name.

“That scares me more than anything,” admitted Cohen, “I think he’s got to have my social security number.”

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