Mukilteos top cop shows ID theft can happen to anyone
When calls came in questioning credit-card purchases, Rex Caldwell "knew I had been hacked."
Mukilteo Police Chief Rex Caldwell can vouch for that.
Each year millions of Americans are victims of identity theft.
Caldwell was one in 2011.
It was an sunny weekend afternoon in the spring when he got a call from someone in security at The Home Depot wanting to check if he really had bought two lawn mowers and other items from stores in Bellevue and Everett just hours apart. The charges were made on a credit card that he hadn't used in years.
"It was at that point I knew I had been hacked," Caldwell said.
That day, he and his wife did a free credit check and found that there had been other activity in their name during the previous week.
Lines of credit had been opened with Wal-Mart, Target and other companies.
She's an accountant; he's a police chief. They knew what to do and quickly stopped the financial bleeding.
Even so, the thief, who later was caught and convicted, managed to charge nearly $10,000 on their credit. Caldwell was one of his many victims.
Caldwell knows most people aren't as well equipped to clean up the mess identity thieves leave behind.
"The average person without the knowledge and skills isn't going to know how to get themselves out of it," he said.
When the dust settled, the companies agreed Caldwell and his wife weren't responsible for the charges on their accounts. The couple did pay $300 for a credit lock and spent many hours explaining to companies what had happened to them.
Caldwell said he worries about the elderly and other vulnerable identity theft victims who are ill-equipped to deal with the fallout. He knows how prevalent the crime is around Snohomish County and across the country. It's a crime that costs tens of billions of dollars and untold stress on victims each year.
Earlier this month, Caldwell took some of his officers to lunch to recognize two recent successful investigations.
One of the cases involved an identity-theft ring.
Mukilteo officers were alerted to a room full of suspicious computer equipment at a hotel near the 8500 block of the Mukilteo Speedway. Hotel cleaning staff noticed the equipment and documents strewn about the room. Detectives served a search warrant and found computers, printers, mail and paperwork that did not belong to anyone associated with the room, Mukilteo officer Cheol Kang said. There were numerous identification cards with different names but the same photograph of one of the suspects. A printer with pages of blank check paper stock was found as well.
Three suspects, ages 31, 32, and 28, were arrested for financial fraud and forgery. They were booked into the Snohomish County Jail. The trio already was being investigated by several other local police agencies for identity theft, fraud and other financial crimes.
In Caldwell's 2011 case, the identity thief found personal financial information about him and three other Kirkland police officers. Caldwell worked for the Kirkland department before taking the top post in Mukilteo.
In the 1990s, a man with a grudge against the department filed a public records request. He was provided information -- now commonly redacted from such requests -- and posted it on the Internet.
More than a decade later, the information came into the hands of Philip Dosskey, an Everett man with a history of forgery and theft as well as a drug addiction.
Dosskey was charged in federal court in Seattle with stealing the identities of more than a dozen people, including the four Kirkland police officers.
He created fake driver's licenses and used the identification when buying expensive items he quickly could resell.
Dosskey was sentenced to more than four years in prison -- the maximum under state guidelines. Caldwell was in the courtroom that day and asked the judge to impose the longest term he could.
"Past behavior is a predictor of future behavior," he said.
In today's world, Caldwell isn't surprised by the prevalence and frequency of identity theft.
"The ease and convenience that people with good credit enjoy gets exploited by criminals," he said.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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