03/16/09 — City area ranks in top 50 for identity crimes

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City area ranks in top 50 for identity crimes

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on March 16, 2009 1:46 PM

The Goldsboro area ranked No. 46 in the nation for reports of identity theft, according to a Federal Trade Commission report released in February.

According to the FTC, Goldsboro logged 194 complaints of identity theft between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2008.

That places Goldsboro's rate of complaints at 170.4 per 100,000 people, putting Goldsboro between the areas of Auburn, Ala., and Prescott, Ariz., where the FTC documented very similar rates of reported ID theft.

Other North Carolina areas that placed within the top 50 included No. 6 ranked Thomasville-Lexington, nearby Dunn in Harnett County at No. 12, Salisbury at No. 17 and the Statesville-Mooresville area, which ranked No. 49.

But 2008 was not the first time that Goldsboro has placed in the rankings, Wayne County financial crimes specialist Tom Flores said.

Flores said he often uses the FTC ranking in a class he teaches about identity theft. The financial crimes detective said the Goldsboro "metropolitan area" has ranked in the top 50 for at least a few years.

A metropolitan area is defined as an area of about 100,000 people in the FTC report about ID theft.

"I ask my classes, 'In North Carolina, can you name some major metropolitan statistical areas?' People start naming Durham, Raleigh and Charlotte.

"They name all the major cities, and then I show them it's Dunn, Goldsboro, Thomasville that rank near the top. Their eyes pop out," Flores said.

The financial crimes detective, whose unit was recently expanded to two people, said the Goldsboro area needs a task force. A similar task force is being operated in the Charlotte area, Flores said.

"I wish we had something like that here in the east," he said.

A number of Goldsboro authorities said they had not been aware of Goldsboro's ranking on the national list. Maj. Jeff Stewart said the report would be evaluated closely for possible action.

At the Sheriff's Office, Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders said his department continues to work on addressing complaints of identity theft.

Winders recently transferred former narcotics detective Mike Kabler to assist Flores with financial crimes investigations.

Then, on Friday, Winders announced the department would be expanded by one more. Longtime arson investigator and detective Keith Hartzog will also help Flores and Kabler with financial crimes, the sheriff said.

"We have seen a large increase in fraud," Winders said. "And a lot of fraud has resulted from identity theft, a lot has resulted from the use of the Internet and computer crimes."

Hartzog's presence should help greatly with the technical end of investigating computer crimes, as he is one of the "top technology guys" in the Sheriff's Office, Flores said.

Flores said the job of a financial crimes investigator sometimes seems like counseling.

The detective said his phone rings constantly with identity theft complaints, often with people extremely upset about their situation.

"People call and they're frustrated, and I don't mind them getting their frustrations out with me," Flores said.

But it would be impossible to chase down every complaint of identity theft, particularly that aren't part of his primary jurisdiction, Flores said.

Even with three detectives now handling financial crimes, Flores said the Sheriff's Office will continue to be bombarded by complaints of fraud.

He often hears of cases that are well outside the Goldsboro area, and does what he can to address them, Flores said.

But it would be impossible to chase down every complaint with the sheer number of ID theft reports that pour into his office, the detective said.

"I know I have statewide jurisdiction on this stuff, and I could drive to Charlotte, or Raleigh or wherever. But in reality, if I did that, I'd spend all of my time driving. I can't do that. The answer to me, it looks like we need a task force."

But Kabler, the new addition to the financial crimes unit, said he hopes that having three people will help.

"I think that us having these new people is going to really help out the citizens as far as ... financial crimes and fraud go," Kabler said.