The number of identity theft victims in Delaware City has nearly doubled in the span of one day, officials with the Delaware City Police Department said.
Delaware City Councilwoman Lisa Keller was among the victims. She said her bank account was drained, with a debt of $200, before she learned of the suspicious purchases.
Keller, like others, realized her incident was part of a larger scheme through online media and social networking sites.
“It is an interesting phenomenon,” Delaware Police Capt. Bruce Pijanowski said. “Through those conversations is where people came up with the possibility that a certain location is the epicenter of all this.”
The victims spoke about using their cards at the strip mall on Houk Road, suspecting that the identity theft could be traced to this area.
Such suspicions are only conjecture at this point, Pijanowski emphasized, pointing out that many Delaware City residents frequent such businesses.
Still, he said the theory is “definitely worth looking into.”
He said auto-pay sites were investigated, and detectives did not find devices that could be used to steal credit card numbers.
The possibility remains that the criminal or criminals peered over card-users’ shoulders, however, Pijanowski added.
Facebook interactions may have assisted the investigation in other ways as well.
Not only did the victims swap information, they also helped raise awareness about the issue.
The online discourse may have even led to more people reporting the stolen identities.
“It’s almost, honestly, like (individuals) have gotten complacent with this stuff,” Pijanowski said. “We’re hearing that a lot of the victims were asking (the banks) if they needed to file a police report and getting, ‘Oh, that’s up to you.’”
As word spread of the crime, the number of reports filed increased exponentially — more than 30 cases of identity theft were reported.
The investigation was handed to detectives when three cases seemed to be related, Pijanowski said.
By the weekend, as word spread, five more reports were filed. More than a dozen cases were reported by Tuesday, and double that by Wednesday afternoon.
All “bore similar characteristics,” Pijanowski said, including that the stolen money was spent in east coast states. Additionally, the crimes were committed without the use of the owners’ cards.
Pijanowski theorized that someone in Delaware may have recorded the victims’ card numbers and sold them to people in other states or someone who was traveling.
“We’re going to be more cautious when we use our debit cards and be aware when it’s out of our sight,” Keller said.
Victims are also advised to place a fraud alert on their credit reports, close the accounts that were or may have been tampered with, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and file a report with the local police.
Pijanowski reiterated that people need to be in tune with their financial statements and be aggressive about canceling a card that was used fraudulently.
For more information about how to prevent or recover from identity theft, visit ftc.gov.