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Thieves got way more than cash and jewelry

By ANDREW SKERRITT
Published March 20, 2007


Paul Boetcher has spent decades traveling around the world for the U.S. military and the federal government, but he has never felt this vulnerable.

A few days before Christmas, someone broke into his Dade City home. They took heirloom jewelry belonging to his wife, Gloria. Soon it was obvious that they had taken much more. They also took a credit card, his old driver's license and an old military passport.

"It was like day after day we would find something else missing," said Boetcher, who in retirement runs a small water testing business. "Certainly, I have lost a sense of security."

The wealth of personal information available in the mail and over the Internet has opened new avenues for thieves to snatch the one thing that leaves us most financially vulnerable - our personal identities.

Pasco sheriff's detectives suspect that Boetcher is one of about 15 people whose personal information was stolen and abused by Tonya M. Adams and her associates over the last several months.

Detectives suspect the Zephyrhills resident used the stolen information to open credit card accounts and transfer money between various accounts to run up thousands in fraudulent purchases. The investigation continues as new victims come forward.

Meanwhile, Boetcher's priorities have changed. He checks his credit statements and bank accounts for any suspicious activity daily. When we spoke late last week, he was composing a letter to a bill collector for a company that handles telephone accounts for county jail inmates. The company wanted to know why Boetcher hadn't paid his $258 bill. Turns out that Adams may have opened an account in Boetcher's name before she was arrested so her boyfriend could call her. He was in the Pasco County jail on unrelated charges.

The thieves used the personal information found in Boetcher's home to open the false credit cards accounts. But based on what he has learned over the last few months, Boetcher believes personal identity theft often happens because banks and department stores, who we trust to safeguard our money and our personal information, are careless.

Sales clerks don't always check the identification of even shady credit card users. For example, someone bought $730 worth of earrings from a kiosk at a mall in Tampa using Boetcher's credit card Dec. 21, the same night of the burglary. Talk about Christmas shopping.

Adams is suspected of posing as Gloria Boetcher to deposit money from stolen checks at a bank in Deltona. Someone was able to deposit $380 and withdraw $180 in cash, even though she showed no ID and didn't have the right account number - the teller scratched the wrong number and wrote in the correct one. Someone also did the same thing at a bank in Trinity even though there was a fraud alert on Boetcher's account.

"What does it do for your confidence in these institutions?" Boetcher asked. He got that money back. He also recovered some of the missing jewelry, but not before paying a Zephyrhills pawn shop $350 to get back the stolen rings.

The theft cost him in other ways. He has installed burglar alarms at home. Valuables are now stored in a vault. But there are some things, like his Social Security number, he can't change. He's always going to wonder when fraud is going on show up again.

His sense of personal security is gone forever.

Andrew Skerritt can be reached at 813 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602. His e-mail address is askerritt@sptimes.com.