TUPELO • The identities of hundreds of Northeast Mississippians have been stolen over the last few months. And many of them aren’t even aware.
The newest scam/fraud involves criminals stealing someone’s information – name, address, Social Security number – to go online and set up an account with Chase Bank. The victims only learn of the fraud when they get a brand new debit card in the mail.
“We had people not realize anything was going on until they got the second letter,” said Sgt. Paul Hendrix, a detective with the Tupelo Police Department. “When the first letter came in (with the debit card), they thought it was some kind of promotion with a fake credit card. It was only when they got they second letter referencing their new bank account that they started checking.”
Unlike most scams where the criminals are trying to steal money from the individuals, this fraud seems to be directed at the bank itself. The criminals are capitalizing on a Chase Bank promotion and the individual victims are just collateral damage.
Hendrix said the worldwide bank with more than 5,000 branches nationally is currently running a promotion for its Chase Total Checking. For new customers, the bank will deposit $200 into new accounts.
In this fraud, the criminals have taken the identities of thousands of people and created new accounts. They can then go online and transfer the $200 from each account.
“A lot of time, people are finding money still in the account,” Hendrix said. “Sometimes it was deposited by Golden Sacks or Google, so we are having to subpoena them as well to try to track down where the money came from and went.”
In the cases reported locally, the victims have only had their identity stolen. So far, the individuals have not lost any money and their other bank accounts have not been compromised.
And where the criminals got the victims identities is unknown at this time.
“We have not found any common denominators between the victims,” Hendrix said. “Most of them have never had an account with Chase Bank, so we don’t think it was a data breech in their part.”
The first reports in Tupelo and Lee County started trickling in this spring as people started questioning why they were getting debit cards for accounts they never opened. There were only a couple of cases per month from April through the summer. Since early September, there have been a steady stream of people contacting the Tupelo Police Department and the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.
Hendrix said TPD has already assigned 60 cases to detectives. Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson said his department has taken around 20 reports in the last six weeks. There have also been cases reported in Pontotoc and Prentiss counties.
Police have advice for anyone who has been a victim of this fraud.
“If you get anything from Chase Bank, look at it and read it carefully to make sure what it is,” Hendrix said. “If it is where someone has created a fraudulent account, you need to file a report with your local law enforcement, whether it is the sheriff’s office or the police department.
“Then you need to call Chase Bank. They will tell you they have to have a police report before they can close the account. So if you already have that in hand, it makes things go quicker.”
The next step would to contact any credit protection bureaus the person subscribes to alert them of the identity theft and to watch for any anomalies. The Attorney General’s office website has an identity theft packet with helpful information.