Originally created 08/10/00

University faces rash of ID theft



ATHENS, Ga. - University of Georgia police are investigating a series of apparently related "identity thefts," with university faculty and students as victims.

Police have identified four victims and are trying to get in touch with one more possible victim, University Assistant Police Chief Jimmy Williamson said Tuesday.

"We believe they are related," he said.

In identity theft, a criminal uses stolen personal information to obtain credit, steal from the victim's bank account or obtain other things in the victim's name.

Police learned of the scam about a month ago from one victim and found the other victims during the subsequent investigation. Police say the identity thief may have gotten the victims' personal information by stealing from campus mail, "but we're not completely sure the information was acquired that way," Assistant Chief Williamson said.

He would say little about the continuing investigation.

One of the victims, a senior, said she learned about the crime of identity theft the same way many victims do.

"I think it was in early May when the first collection agency called me," she said.

The collection agent, after keeping her on hold for minutes, told the senior she was seriously overdue on a gasoline credit card. But the student said she had never had a credit card with the company.

"Somebody had opened an account with my name, with my Social Security number on it. I had to go through days and days of calling people. It was a very big hassle," she said.

In the past three months she's learned more than she ever wanted to about identity theft. She got copies of her credit cards and found out the thief had set up other credit card accounts in her name more than a year ago.

"I didn't find out about it for a whole entire year," she said.

She learned that the thief could write a very good imitation of her signature.

She also learned that it can take many hours to repair the damage an identity theft can do to a victim's credit rating. Recently, she had to convince a new landlord that her marred credit rating is the result of someone else's crime, not because she is not creditworthy.

"It's really kind of scary," she said.