The Boston Globe
The 21st century epidemic of identity theft has developed a new strain in Boston: the case of the Paul Caseys.
Yesterday authorities announced the arrest on Friday of a 39-year-old Back Bay man for allegedly stealing the identities of at least 12 people, all with the name Paul Casey, including 42-year-old Paul C. Casey, a Democratic state representative from Winchester.
Boston police say David Faulcon of 144 St. Botolph St. used documents from the Registry of Motor Vehicles to obtain department store credit cards and during the past few months he illegally charged thousands of dollars to Paul Caseys in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York.
“He had their personal information, and he was able to prove his identity,” said John F. Gallagher, superintendent of the Boston Police Department, noting detectives have seen a significant rise in identify theft in recent years.
A Federal Trade Commission survey released in September found 27.3 million Americans experienced identity theft during the past five years, including 9.9 million last year, a record and nearly double from 2001.
For Paul C. Casey, the state representative, the first mysterious bill arrived late last month.
“At first I thought my wife was getting me Christmas presents and trying to keep it a secret,” Casey said. “Then as they kept coming, I suddenly said, ‘What is this?’ “
The bills kept rolling in: Banana Republic, the Gap, Linens ‘n Things, Home Depot, Old Navy, Pier 1. All told, the thief used Casey’s name and credit history to run up more than $18,000 in purchases, many of them high-value gift cards.
The giveaway, Casey said, was when a bill from a new Macy’s department store card arrived. Casey’s wife works at Macy’s and would never have taken out a regular store card, he said.
Things could have been much worse. Casey said none of his personal bank accounts or credit cards had been compromised. The credit card companies, he said, told him he is not liable for any of the money spent in his name, although his credit history is now in shambles.
“Any time my credit rating comes up in the next few months, I’m dead meat,” he said. He worries it will take months to get his credit in order.
Of all the issues on Beacon Hill, Casey never paid much attention to identity theft. But now the chairman of the House Joint Committee on Taxation is giving it close scrutiny.
After learning that his identity had been stolen about a month ago, Casey proposed a bill in the Legislature that would require all stores to take a photograph of anyone applying for a store card. Since no such requirement exists, Casey learned, Boston police detectives relied on grainy footage from a surveillance camera to identify Faulcon.
Another victim, Paul F. Casey, a certified public accountant from Duxbury, has also sought to restore his creditworthiness since receiving three letters in early October, indicating that his identity had been stolen.
One came from Loews in Winchester, where he never shopped. Among other things, the company said he charged $400 worth of electronic appliances. Then he received a notice from Home Depot, denying a request he never made to open a credit account.
Then Casey, 42, went online and downloaded his credit report. “I saw Wal-Mart pulled my credit report,” he said. Another $400 was spent at that store, Casey said, after seeing someone opened an “instant account” at a store in New Hampshire.
Casey lost $800 and hours dealing with police and credit card companies. “It’s annoying,” he said.
Demonstrating the vulnerability of personal financial data, a consumer watchdog group in San Francisco obtained Governor Mitt Romney’s Social Security number for $30 last September.
For an extra $125, the Globe bought Romney’s Trans Union credit report, which listed all his credit card accounts, credit card numbers, credit limits, auto leases, and payment history, from more than a year ago. The credit card numbers alone could have been used to make purchases on the Internet.
Consumer advocates put the blame on corporations for failing to respect consumer privacy rights and argue that Massachusetts has not done enough to prevent such fraud, particularly because the state doesn’t require corporations to obtain consumers’ permission before selling their private information.
They also criticize the state for allowing the Registry of Motor Vehicles to use residents’ Social Security numbers, which is often the key to someone’s financial information, as their identification number on their driver’s license.
“The record identity theft in Massachusetts is due to the fact that banks buy and sell private information like stocks and bonds,” said Jerry Flanagan, a spokesman for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. “State regulators should require banks to get a consumers’ written prior consent before trading private financial data with thousands of corporate affiliates. The reckless exchange of information increases identity theft.”
Faulcon was arrested after the Quincy Police Department forwarded complaints from a Home Depot there. He is being held in lieu of $50,000 bail at the Dedham House of Correction and faces charges of identity fraud and larceny over $250, police said.
Police said they searched Faulcon’s apartment and seized $3,900 as well as thousands of dollars of apparently stolen merchandise, including laptop computers, cameras, a Burberry watch and other jewelry, CD players, and gift cards.
Gallagher said he had no information as to whether Faulcon had a criminal record and would not speculate as to why Faulcon would impersonate so many people with the same name. He also said police are investigating whether a Registry employee provided Faulcon with documents.
A neighbor at Faulcon’s Back Bay apartment said that he believed Faulcon had lived there for about a year and that he worked nearby as a hairdresser.
Faulcon will be arraigned today in Quincy District Court.
Globe correspondent Adam Krauss contributed to this report.
David Abel can be reached at [email protected]