Investigations into stolen identities, fraud often pose challenges

RACINE COUNTY — When a man was brought before a Racine County Circuit Court commissioner last week for a charge of felony personal identity theft, he had allegedly been living in Racine for at least 15 years under someone else’s identity.

Although the alleged victim, a 51-year-old California man, had complained about his identity being used in 2006 and last July, investigators at the Racine Police Department were unable to make an arrest until last month as they waited for identifying documents from the victim, according to the accused man’s criminal complaint.

Investigations can go on for years

While cases where another person’s identity is completely adopted are rare in the area, according to police, investigating even straightforward identity theft cases can be time-consuming, labor-intensive and go on for years.

“I try to do my due diligence and work as hard as I can but, unfortunately, some of these cases I might never be able to solve,” said Jeff Chiapete, investigator for the Racine County Sheriff’s Office. He is also vice president for Racine County Triad, a nonprofit organization that educates and assists senior citizens with identity theft and fraud issues.

He explained more common forms of identity theft include opening a credit card or putting monthly bills in another person’s name by using their personal information.

Identity theft is stealing another’s personal information in order to pose as that person, while fraud involves using an identity, creating an identity or misrepresenting one’s intentions, though both are typically for financial gain.

Complaints in Wisconsin

The Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Report indicates that just more than 290,000 identity theft complaints were reported nationwide in 2013, of which about 3,600 came from Wisconsin.

The Racine County Sheriff’s Office responded to 30 cases of identity theft in 2013 and 45 complaints through April this year, according to Lt. Steve Sikora. Meanwhile, the Racine Police Department handled 71 cases in 2013 and 39 through late April, according to Sgt. Jessie Metoyer.

However, these numbers could not be categorized without looking at each case.

Noting that 48 complaints were submitted by this time last year, Metoyer explained in an email that a spike in identity thefts is common in spring, when residents often report someone has already claimed their income tax refund.

Often involve family members

Chiapete explained that identity theft cases often occur between members of a family, a situation that involves multiple suspects and little evidence that points to any particular individual.

“When you have five or six people, it makes it very difficult for me to solve unless I talk someone into giving me a confession,” he said.

“Sometimes you know who the criminal is; it’s harder to prove they did it. It’s not what you know; it’s what you can prove.”

Although he takes many other cases that sometimes take priority over identity theft, including arsons, car crashes and sometimes homicides, Chiapete explained that he will continually come back to identity theft cases and keep trying to close them.

He said that he has nearly a dozen open cases involving family members putting cable or electricity bills in the names of their children or younger relatives.

“I’m a digger,” he said. “I’ll just keep working until hopefully I can solve the case … I don’t want to give up on a case.”

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