|Galesburg co-workers victims of identity theft
Group of ILPEA employees has $20,000 wrongly charged in their names
By TOM LOEWY and CHRIS ESSIG
Posted Jun 12, 2010 @ 09:35 PM
GALESBURG — Erika Bennett returned home Monday evening and found a pile of mail waiting for her.
As the Galesburg resident opened a letter from J.C. Penney, Bennett had no idea she was one of possibly eight local victims of credit and identity fraud being perpetrated some 600 miles away in Georgia.
"J.C. Penney said they were contacting me to inform me that they were restricting my card because of suspected fraud," said Bennett, who told police $1,640 was charged to her card between June 2 and June 4. "So I continued through my mail. The surprises just kept coming."
The next letter informed her she had been declined for a Sears credit card - even though she had not applied for the card. The last letter came from Dick's Sporting Goods. It contained a credit card and congratulations on her acceptance.
"I hadn't applied for that card, either. Later I called and found out I already had a $2,507.90 balance on the card."
Bennett was even more shocked when she learned Tuesday she knew others claiming to be victims of fraud. They are her co-workers at ILPEA Industries, the former Holm Industries on Linwood Road.
According to Kevin Pelton, a quality control manager for ILPEA, eight employees have reported purchases being charged to their credit cards and, in some cases, new cards established in their names.
GateHouse News Service contacted four ILPEA workers, each claiming thousands of dollars were charged to various credit cards, totaling nearly $20,000 among the employees.
"The common denominator seems to be that all the charges are being made in an area north of Atlanta, Ga.," said Pelton. Galesburg police said Wednesday that three employees have been victims of identity theft.
Detective Brad Cirimotich said police are trying to figure out how the data was accessed. Police are having victims contact the Federal Trade Commission, which can work with law enforcement in Georgia.
"Victims are encouraged to contact the police first, however," said Cirimotich.
Peggy Fell, one of Bennett's co-workers at ILPEA, said she also was a victim, and the current leader in total charges. More than $12,000 was charged to her Sears, J.C. Penney and Sam's Club charge cards.
"The people who had my Sears card used it and charged $2,100," she said. "Then they were denied a charge at another Sears because of lack of proper ID. The person or people left, got I.D. with my name and information, returned to the Sears where they were denied and charged another $1,000 on my card."
Bennett said she believes the fact eight victims of credit fraud happened to be from ILPEA is nothing more than "a coincidence."
Bennett said her J.C. Penney card was used in a singular fashion. The company's customer service representatives said her credit card number had been entered manually at the purchase sites, not made with the usual card swipe through a verification machine.
"When I called Dick's, I gave the customer service person my name and he gave me back my phone number, address and Social Security number," Bennett said. "They had all my information."
The fraud comes on the heels of numerous Knox County residents receiving phone calls asking for banking and credit card information last month.
"If they have this information and they are using it to get credit cards, they could be using it to establish identity," Bennett said. "That's really scary - that there could be someone out there with a driver's license or I.D. card with their picture on it and my name and all my information."
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