ADA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Authorities in Kent County are warning residents to keep an eye on their mailboxes and bank accounts as a monthslong scam of mail and identity fraud is plaguing the Ada and Lowell areas.
These days, identity theft is often a cybercrime. But for the last month and a half, a criminal couple has gone old school, stealing identities out of the mailboxes.
“It’s just a crazy situation,” said Don LaBlanc, who lives in Ada Township and a couple weeks ago found out he had a credit card he never applied for. “We found out (about) a credit card with a company out of New York, a bank, and that we had $15,000 worth of purchases out of Meijers in southern Michigan.”
The Kent County Sheriff’s Department says it has connected 35 identity theft cases as far back as mid-March.
“We’ve got about a 30-day window of time where there have been thefts and frauds both occurring,” sheriff’s office Sgt. Joel Roon said. “This is unique because not only is it the theft on the back end, you have the fraud side, so these victims are being inconvenienced beyond the theft.”
The sheriff’s office says the crooks typically get a credit card sent to an address and then go there to steal it from the mail and start spending.
“Unfortunately, it probably is easier than it should be. I’m not going to say this doesn’t take some know-how to do,” Roon said.
Investigators got their best tip March 15 when a person in Ada Township saw a man and woman rifling through a bank of mailboxes.
“The homeowner actually did a really nice job getting some identifying information from the vehicle and he called it in to police, which is what prompted the investigation,” Roon said.
Most of the bad cards are through HSBC Bank and the State Farm Bank system. In Don LaBlanc’s case, cards were also taken out in the name of his wife and even his son who lives in Chicago.
“The bank was nice enough to say ‘Hey, you don’t owe us any money.’ They just got scammed big time and we don’t know how it happened,” LaBlanc said.
He added his mail was being held by the post office and the thieves somehow still got his information.
The full scope of the thefts is still not known.
“Unfortunately for the people involved here, we may not know the full extent for a period of time now,” Roon said.
These crimes, since they involve financial institutions, carry a maximum sentence of up to 30 years.
The sheriff’s office is urging residents to monitor their credit reports and file a report if they notice any suspicious activity, especially involving HSBC Bank and State Farm Bank.
Residents can also try to safeguard themselves by taking the following steps:
- Don’t leave mail unattended for extended periods
- Ask your post office or trusted neighbor to hold your mail while you’re away
- If you change your address, immediately notify your post office and any mailers
- Hand outgoing mail directly to your letter carrier or mail it at the post office.
If you believe your mail was stolen, contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service online or call 877.876.2455. Anyone who spots suspicious activity around mailboxes is also encouraged to contact the Kent County Sheriff’s Office at 616.632.6100.