Identity theft costing Floridians millions

By Gregory A. Phillips Staff Writer

ORANGE PARK – One of the newest trends in identity theft involves stealing the IDs of infants and small children.

Cathy Costley, a victims services program specialist in the Florida Attorney General’s Jacksonville Office, told a Clay County audience recently that thieves will stop at nothing to get what they want.

“We’re seeing more and more people applying for college loans only to be denied because their Social Security numbers have been compromised and their credit is bad,” said Costley July 31 while addressing the Toast of Clay breakfast sponsored by the Clay County Chamber of Commerce. “One man was in debt for over $2 million because someone was using his information since he was a child. It took him more than 10 years to get things straightened out.”

She said 13.1 million Americans fell victim to ID theft in 2013, with Florida coming out on top as the leading state victimized into the millions of dollars.

She said as more people use debit or credit cards instead of cash, the criminals are in a state of euphoria. Costley said debit cards and credit cards can be hacked and personal data compromised to a point where criminals steal a person’s identity and set up accounts in the victim’s name.

Fleming Island resident Jonathan Tucker was one such victim. He said he recently went to a gas station in South Florida and swiped his card to pay. Shortly thereafter, he discovered that his card had been making the rounds throughout Central and South Florida, always for $300 purchases.

“Over $300 and [the banks] check up on you,” Tucker said.

When he called his bank to point out the situation, he was told to come to the bank to straighten out the mess. While sitting with a bank representative, another $300 charge appeared from South Florida all the while being from page 6

told it would two weeks to determine if his card had actually been stolen.

By the time the bank admitted he was being cheated by someone who had his debit card information, his account had been plundered and his automatic payments began to come back for insufficient funds.

“It took me about two months to get everything straightened out. Luckily, my employer was able to forward me some money to get by,” Tucker said.

Costley warned attendees of how IDs are compromised. She said bank statements and purchase receipts should be shredded after use or locked in a home safe to prevent them from being viewed by anyone outside of the family.

She recommends that bank customers protect their identity by closely checking their bank and credit card statements for purchases. If a purchase shows up that looks suspicious, she said, consumers should contact their financial institution immediately.

Costley said what may seem like simple precautions can fend off a nightmarish ordeal that could take more than 200 hours to correct once a person’s ID has been stolen. She recommends that consumers never give out their personal information to anyone on the phone. For more information about identity theft, visit the Attorney General’s website at

Cathy Costley, left, listens to concerns after the Toast of Clay breakfast meeting July 31. She told members of the Clay County Chamber of Commerce that Florida is the top state for ID theft.

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