Kirkwood Police are investigating an identify theft case after the victim reported that someone ran up an $800 Charter Cable bill in their name. The victim took a call about an overdue bill for an address in Hanley Hills. The problem is the victim never lived in Hanley Hills and never activated the service. Someone used their personal information to commit utility fraud.
The Federal Trade Commission reports that utilities and phone fraud made up about 13% of all identify theft complaints in 2011. Compare that to credit card fraud, which you hear about all the time. It makes up about 14% of complaints.
U.S. Postal Inspector Dan Taylor says these types of fraud cases are not unusual. Many, he says, are perpetrated by family members who are using a relatives name to open new accounts or keep services connected. Some of these cases are committed by strangers who stay on the move.
"Some of the more savvy scammers figure out how to keep the account going for a few months and by the time that law enforcement has been tipped off, they've moved onto a new address," said Taylor.
In fact, by the time you get a call from a debt collector, it may be too late to prosecute.
"If the fraud is over 500 dollars, the statute of limitations is three years. If it's under 500 dollars, it's one year. All these cases, the debt collectors are calling well after the fact," said Jack Huelsmann, coordinator of the Fraud Prevention Task Force in the St Louis City Circuit Attorney's Office.
Huelsmann says that he's received four calls from victims since last August, reporting this kind of fraud. Three of the victims said they were tipped off by debt collectors. A fourth said she learned she was a victim when she underwent a credit check to rent an apartment. Huelsmann said the suspects in all the cases were relatives.
Victims should call police, document everything, and report the fraud to the utility company, said Huelsmann.
Chicago Police arrested two women in an extreme case of utility fraud in 2010. Two women were accused of stealing identifies of senior citizens and setting up fake accounts for people who didn't have the credit to open their own: www.facebook.com/note.php
Federal Law requires businesses to identify red flags and report suspected fraud, immediately: www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/redflagsrule/index.shtml
News 4 contacted local utility companies. Laclede Gas says that an average of 20 fraud complaints are made every month. The utility has around 625,000 customers and takes customer security seriously.
Ameren said it would not share fraud statistics. A Charter Cable spokesperson said she would not know if the company could answer our questions until Friday.
In Kirkwood, police have sent subpoenas to Charter to learn more about who opened the account in Hanley Hills.