Identity theft leaves AF man searching for answers - East Valley Tribune: Ahwatukee Foothills

Identity theft leaves AF man searching for answers

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Posted: Thursday, July 7, 2011 9:00 am

When Don Molenda received an inheritance in early 2010 he did what he thought was smart and took it right to the bank. He placed all the money into a secure savings account, was told he'd get a statement quarterly, and he walked away.

When the statement came months later and stated that the account had been drained of thousands of dollars he didn't know what to do.

"At first I thought there might have been some problem that I didn't realize that I did on my own," Molenda said. "Maybe a creditor or maybe a hospital bill I had might have drained the account. I started questioning and thinking and thinking, and by the time I went over to the bank they said, ‘No, you went through the drive-in ATM every day and took out $180, $160 and so on.' I'm older, but I don't think I have Alzheimer's and just threw that money in a box somewhere."

Arizona Federal Credit Union, where the account was opened, questioned why Molenda had waited so long. He explained that it was a savings account and he thought the money was safe - but his excuse was not enough. The credit union investigated the account and told Molenda there were no signs of fraud.

"I use to have an American Express Gold Card and I went to Vegas once and when I came home I had a message about strange charges on my card from Vegas," Molenda said. "I told them ‘Yeah, yeah, I took a trip for my company. Thank you so much for watching my account for me.' I thought the credit union would do the same thing for me if they saw these huge amounts of withdraws day after day shortly after the account was opened. They didn't."

The fraud department stood by its findings and Molenda eventually filed a police report in March of 2011. A detective has been on the case ever since, but Molenda is having trouble finding proof to his claims. The case is still ongoing.

Lifelock, a company that helps protect clients from identity theft and helps solve the case if it happens offered some advice for someone in a situation like this.

"Contact the police department," said Tami Nealy, senior director of corporate communications for Lifelock. "File a police report. Then, you probably want to alert the bank and let them know you filed a police report because it was not you. You want to contact the credit report agencies and let them know that there's something going on with your account. It might spread to your credit card and someone may be trying to open a line of credit as well. Unfortunately, in a game of identity theft you're guilty until you prove you're innocent."

Nealy said it's really up to the bank and the police department to find evidence of fraud. It's a tough process for anyone to go through to go through video of ATMS or track down IP addresses of online transactions, but the victim deserves some help.

"Unfortunately, in the instance of bank fraud, there's not a lot to do to stop it from happening," Nealy said. "You need to check statements weekly to make sure there's nothing happening that you did not initiate. Stay on top of it and look frequently."

Nealy offered two extra tips for consumers who want to take a proactive approach. She suggests getting a credit report every 12 months from annualcreditreport.com. Every consumer is entitled to one. She warned not to confuse the website with freecreditreport.com. They are not the same.

Nealy also suggested signing up for a fraud report with the three major credit companies. The fraud alert sends a call to you directly any time a line if credit is being opened in your name. They'll ask a series of questions straight from your credit report to ensure that it is truly you.

"If you lost your purse or wallet those answers generally aren't in there," Nealy said. "That's something consumers can do for free. It does expire every 90 days and you just need to go in and renew those fraud alerts."

Of course, normal things like shredding documents and limiting who has personal information can help, as well as companies like Lifelock that protect clients year-round for a fee.

For Molenda, it's now a waiting game. He just has to hope that the detective on his case can help get to the bottom of the issue. In all, close to $6,000 was stolen from his account in June and July of 2010.

Lifelock has offered to help Molenda for free for a year to try and find who stole his identity and make sure it does not happen again.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com

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