ATHENS, Ga. - When more than a dozen people from throughout the country called an Athens telemarketing company in response to a mail offer for a low-rate credit card, they had no idea the information they gave out over the phone would be used by an employee to defraud them.
But that's exactly what Athens-Clarke police say they believe happened at DialAmerica, the Williams Street company where 24-year-old operator Shirelle Baskin is suspected of stealing sensitive personal information from callers.
Police found the names, Social Security numbers and birthdates of 14 people while carrying out a search warrant at Ms. Baskin's Elbert Street home Sept. 11 in an unrelated drug investigation. Ms. Baskin also allegedly took down some callers' credit card numbers, and their mothers' maiden names, employers and annual incomes.
Investigators in the police department's financial fraud unit charged Ms. Baskin with 14 counts of felony financial identity fraud, allegedly committed Sept. 4-11. She was arrested Thursday and posted a $10,000 bond Saturday. She is due to appear in Athens-Clarke Magistrate Court on Oct. 13.
Athens-Clarke Detective Beverly Russell acknowledged that such thefts would be hard for a potential victim to avoid.
"There are things you could do - be very careful who you talk to and who you give information to," Detective Russell said. "But if a person has access to that information and they're going to steal it, they'll steal it no matter what you do."
Detective Russell said Ms. Baskin was the first DialAmerica employee to be charged. Officials with the company, which has been in Athens for more than 10 years and employs about 300 people locally, repeatedly have declined to comment.
Detective Russell said the stolen information could be used to obtain new credit cards or to set up checking accounts in the victims' names. Financial identity fraud has become a common method of laundering drug money, she added.
"We have (several) different possibilities of what it was used for," Detective Russell said of the stolen information. "As for what she used it for, we don't know yet. I believe I've proven the intent to defraud."
Ms. Baskin allegedly sneaked the information out of DialAmerica's offices on small pieces of paper, Detective Russell said. Company officials had "no clue" of the activity until approached by police, she said.
None of the victims contacted by police was aware of any unauthorized credit card charges, Detective Russell said. That doesn't mean their personal information wasn't used in fraudulent credit card or bank account applications, she said.