ID theft victim still struggling to repair credit, reputation

 
 
 
 

EDMONTON — Alicia Paziuk’s cart was packed after hours of shopping at Walmart with her two girls. The cashier rang up the goods, including two sparkling Mariposa Barbies, and Paziuk handed over her bank card to pay.

 

The clerk handed it back: no money.

 

“Where’s my money?” Paziuk thought as she pulled out her Visa card and handed it to the clerk, who shortly handed it back. No available credit. They tried the cards at another register. No and no.

 

She left the store empty-handed, confused and humiliated, her girls wailing for their new Barbies. She called the bank from the parking lot.

 

The teller asked: had she recently opened a new account at another branch? No, she said.

 

Well, someone did, the teller replied, and that person had used the new bank card to drain her family’s accounts — and maxed out the Visa. Someone had also deposited empty envelopes and withdrawn more than $10,000 in non-existent cash.

 

Paziuk was hysterical. She took the banker’s advice and called the credit bureaus, but they wouldn’t give her any information about her financial situation. They could only tell her one thing: she was under investigation for fraud.

 

In 2008, more than 10,000 Canadians like Paziuk fell victim to identity theft. According to the Canadian Anti-fraud Call Centre, thieves netted more than $8.8 million using stolen identities between January and November this year alone.

 

According to a recent survey, one in four Canadians knows someone who has been a victim and 57 per cent of us have purchased shredders.

Information and Privacy Commissioner Frank Work says Canadians have reason to be concerned.

 

“All the predictions are that this kind of identity theft and cyber-fraud is going to become more prevalent,” he says. “You have to take more precautions than you did before. We (consumers) are going to have to get more sophisticated, in order to protect ourselves.”

 

Paziuk was frantic as she dialed her husband from the Wal-Mart parking lot that crisp April day. Four months earlier, her wallet had been stolen from her car and she had cancelled her credit card, ordered a new driver’s licence and considered the problem solved.

 

“It didn’t seem real,” she says now. “I think it would have been easier to walk into my house and have it cleaned out — then at least I’d know what to do. I just remember crying a lot and thinking, ‘Why? Why did this happen to me?’”

 

University of Alberta researcher Jessica Van Vliet says Paziuk’s response is common. She is conducting one of Canada’s first in-depth studies into the effects of identity theft on victims, and her early findings suggest the psychological consequences can be profound.

 

“Anger is a really big theme, and a sense of terrible injustice,” Van Vliet says. Some victims never learn how the offender got their information, and most live in fear that someone, somewhere still has it.

 

“It really can shake people’s trust in the world, in the system, and it isn’t just the fact that the perpetrator has stolen their identity. Victims can also feel frustrated and powerless as they try to restore their credibility.”

 

Unravelling the fraud and regaining her financial reputation became Paziuk’s full-time job.

 

The months that followed the discovery were a blur of bank visits, police reports and phone calls. Her driver’s licence, registration, credit cards, bank accounts, even her social insurance number — the fraudster took everything.

 

Bell Mobility and Rogers sent bills for cellphones she never owned, Shell and Petro Canada called to say she owed them for gas, Home Depot and Sears wrote to say they couldn’t approve credit cards for which she had never applied. She got a photo-radar ticket for a van she never bought and never drove.

 

She stuffed it all into a weathered folder and scribbled Fraud on the front. In all, she says the fraudster stole more than $100,000 using her identity alone, and upwards of $300,000 using others’ identities, too.

 

“It was violating,” she says now. “It was almost like I was raped, and nobody was doing anything about it.”

 

Veteran fraud investigator Dave Vicen is a member of Service Alberta’s Special Investigations Unit, which got involved in Paziuk’s case when the fraudster started tampering with her government ID.

 

Vicen’s job is to protect the registries, and he says Paziuk’s case ranks among the worst he has seen. The investigation took nine months.

 

He said identity theft is a popular crime because thieves are realizing it is lucrative and extraordinarily hard to detect. And if they get caught, they are likely to serve less time in jail because the crime is not violent.

 

“Our bad guys are getting a little smarter. They’re using more ingenious methods,” he says.

 

But so is Paziuk. Now, she burns everything with her name and identity on it. She shops with cash. She never leaves her wallet in the car.

 

She survived the economic fallout with the help of generous parents and because her husband was able to use his credit in the wake of her financial disaster. Her life is back to normal, but her credit is still ruined, and she is still under investigation for fraud.

 

“Little things still make my heart stop,” she says. She still panics whenever she swipes her bank card.

 

“My trust for people definitely isn’t there anymore. But it could be worse. It could have been my kids. It is just a name.”

 

On Oct. 15, 2008, Leduc RCMP Const. Brad Golinski arrested an Edmonton woman in connection with Paziuk’s case.

 

Amanda Florence Bowen faces 69 counts of fraud, and more charges are pending.

 

Police searched Bowen’s home and allegedly found plastic film for forging credit cards, credit card signature strips and a pile of stolen mail, court records show.

 

In a seven-page indictment, Golinski alleges Bowen, 25, used Paziuk’s identity to buy furniture in March, a car in April, a barbecue in June, an air conditioner and a lawn mower in July and sunglasses in August. He alleges she bought high-end clothes, a digital camera, an iPod touch — even a dog.

 

 

Edmonton Journal

One Response to “ID theft victim still struggling to repair credit, reputation”

  1. Why aren’t banks secure?
    The whole idea behind keeping your money in a bank vs. in your mattress is that a bank is secure. The banks are FDIC insured for accounts up to $100,000.00 which is higher now due to the economy. The issue these days is that we are getting our identity stolen right at the bank. Here is an example below of one who had over 200 accounts opened up under his name and a huge amount of cash…yes I said cash taken out of his account without having to verify a valid ID.

    What is the answer? Do we keep our money in the mattress? Do we make the courts do something? Tell me your thoughts…..

    http://o8justiceforall.wordpress.com/

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