Identity theft dogs woman in Palmer

A Palmer woman has spent five years fighting to restore her credit rating after identity thieves stole her personal information — including her Social Security number — a cautionary tale as a seemingly endless parade of data breaches hit retail stores.

Adria Champney said she realized she was a victim of identity theft after she started getting flooded with calls from banks about fraudulent checks, from credit card companies about unpaid bills and hotels complaining of damaged rooms in 2009.

“There were charges pressed against me. I had to go for so many lineups at the police station,” Champney said.

“Luckily, there would be people who were like, ‘No, it’s not her.’ ”

Champney’s mother, Marisa, estimates that she and her husband are out more than $30,000 in legal fees. She said she’s on medication to alleviate anxiety that she’s developed since the ordeal began. But she’s most concerned about her grandchildren.

“Now, if they see a cruiser or something, they freak out,” Marisa Champney, 60, said.

It’s a situation many shoppers could find themselves in as more and more stores report that consumer information has been stolen. Dairy Queen and Kmart last week both said stores were hit in a cyberattack. As in the cases of Target and Home Depot, criminals hacked payment systems, stealing information from customer credit cards to use and sell on “dark clouds,” or black market cloud platforms. Security experts say the most important thing to do is watch your bank accounts diligently.

“If your credit card information is stolen, it’s a hassle, but the real danger comes if they’re able to get other information, like your Social Security number,” said Dan Schiappa, general manager of security firm Sophos.

Schiappa said consumers may be inadvertently putting themselves at risk online by not using different passwords on individual sites or by using passwords that hackers can guess by reviewing social media profiles, where information such as favorite music and sports teams are on display.

In Champney’s case, local authorities have been able to investigate the identity theft, but Chris Sullivan of the Massachusetts Bar Association said many cases involve hackers from other countries. In those cases, victims have to rely on federal authorities to step in, and even then, they’re vulnerable to the potentially more lax laws abroad.

The Champneys hope for improved security measures to lessen the prevalence of identity theft.

“I think a lot of people think somebody steals your bank account and that’s that,” said Marisa Champney, “but they don’t realize the extent of how far it can go.”

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