04/01/09 — Financial crimes unit will take aim at identity theft

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Financial crimes unit will take aim at identity theft

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

Two more detectives will be at work challenging Wayne County's dubious honor of being one of the top 50 areas in the nation targeted by identity thieves.

Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders said two more officers will join Detective Tom Flores in investigating identity theft, including Detective Mike Kabler in a full-time capacity and Detective Keith Hartzog assisting when he is needed.

That comes as relief to Flores, who said his caseload had grown to more than one person could handle.

The detective said this is not the first year the Goldsboro metropolitan area has made the national top 50 list of places for identity crime. Identity and fraud crimes have brought the subject to the forefront in recent months. In one case, an identity theft case included a woman allegedly faking brain surgery as a means to defraud someone of $16,000.

Since then, Flores has filed dozens of other counts against suspect Stacie Harrell Pittman on charges involving a multitude of alleged victims. The file of paperwork gathered in her case is as thick as a dictionary.

In another case, Flores said he believes that someone might have fraudulently diverted other people's tax returns into another account. Problems with evidence, imposed by another county agency, played a role in the failure to bring charges before a jury, the detective said.

But individual cases are the least of the detective's worries -- he also has to contend with Internet thieves who live in other states and countries.

And because commerce has been mobilized by the Internet, it can be difficult for a detective to even know who some thieves are without a degree in computer science.

As one of the new additions to the Financial Crimes Unit, Hartzog might help with that task, said Flores and his new partner, Kabler, said.

Hartzog was described by detectives as one of the most proficient in the Sheriff's Office when it comes to computer science.

"One of the biggest points, or strategies ... is going to be educating the public," Flores said. "I think a lot of crime, especially with these debit card and credit card numbers, is being facilitated on the Internet. Someone is skimming these numbers somewhere."

Kabler, the new full-time detective in the financial crimes unit, said he is already familiar with the complications that identity theft crimes cause for law enforcement.

"It's so hard to find out whose jurisdiction these things are in sometimes -- you use your credit card from your house, and it's being used in some Web site, or a different location," Kabler said.

Some critics question whether the credit card industry's own self-regulated system, known as Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards, provides enough protection for consumers' personal information.

The detectives in the Sheriff's Office said they plan to work diligently to reduce the number of cases involving Wayne County residents. Winders said the many recent advancements in technology have opened the door to opportunities for criminals. His office, he said, is trying to keep abreast of those advances and root out the criminals whose aim is to scam local people, oftentimes the elderly.

"Because of the way the times are, we're working with these gentlemen right here," Winders said. "They're leading the way."