UPDATED: Monday, February 4, 2013 --- 6:00 p.m.
An identity theft suspect is in custody after trying to open a credit card under a second assumed identity at the same store in less than a week.
On Sunday, an Old Navy staffer at the store near East Towne Mall in Madison thought a customer looked familiar. The woman tried to open a credit card. The staffer realized it was the same person who had opened another account a few days before, under a different identity, and walked away with $1,000 in gift cards.
Police believe the suspect was using a doctored Vermont drivers license. Receipts indicate she may have bought thousands of dollars in gift cards from other local stores under other identities, possibly traveling outside the state to cash them in on unsuspecting businesses.
"These thieves are professionals," said Joe Campana, who advises businesses on how to prevent and recover from identity theft. "An inexperienced thief will go in and do something like that the first time, and very likely get caught, but an experienced thief will be testing and seeing 'Hey, is this gonna work?' They'll do $20 gift certificates."
The Old Navy suspect, who authorities are still trying to identify, purchased cards from at least five stores in Madison including a Boston store where she walked away with $1,000 credit.
"It's cheap for a crook, it's relatively easy, doesn't require any kind of investment in terms of a computer or modem or anything like that," said Wisconsin Trade and Consumer Protection Administrator Sandy Chalmers. "They may not realize it until months later and in the meantime the thief has continued to open up new lines of credit and bank accounts or home loans in your name."
Chalmers says a call to one of the three major credit reporting agencies should be among a victim's first. That can limit what accounts can be opened in your name. She also recommends not carrying your social security card number on your person.
Fraud cases claim about $2 billion every year in the US, a quarter of the cases involving credit cards.
Posted Monday, February 4, 2013 --- 1:27 p.m.
Incident Report from the Madison Police Department:
Incident Type: Fraud
Incident Date: 02/03/2013 - 2:00 PM
Address: 2348 East Springs Dr. (Old Navy store)
Arrested: Bathshuwa M. Edwards, age 24, St. Paul, MN
Suspect was arrested for Fraudulent Use of Financial Transaction Card - 6 counts, Forgery - 4 counts, Resisting/Obstructing - 1 count.
Details: Her face looked very familiar. An employee at Old Navy, 2348 East Springs Dr., had seen the woman before, in fact, just last week. Only during the past visit the woman was using different identification, and a different name to open an Old Navy credit card account.
She took immediate advantage of the new account by purchasing two $500 gift cards. With suspicions escalating during the woman's return visit yesterday afternoon, Old Navy staff thought it prudent to notify the MPD. When an officer arrived, the suspect was still in the process of trying to open another credit card account.
She provided the officer with a Vermont driver's license. It was later determined to be doctored. It contained the suspect's photo, but another women's identification. The investigating officer found the suspect had receipts for numerous gift cards, worth several thousand dollars, from various stores: JCPenney, Boston Store, Victoria's Secret, Best Buy and Macy's.
The initial investigation indicates the suspect may have taken out credit cards at stores on both the east and west sides of Madison. A Boston Store loss prevention officer said a woman, believed to be the same suspect, used an Arizona driver's license to take out 2 $500 gift cards on January 26th.
The gift cards were subsequently used at Chicago area stores to purchase merchandise, primarily cosmetics. The suspect refused to provide any information Sunday. During the booking process, a Dane County deputy was able to determine two more aliases that the suspect has used.
Those would be in addition to the two identities used to take out the recent credit cards. The suspect was booked on the name listed above; however, the arresting officer noted that the FBI's finger print identification system should be used for positive identification of the suspect. Law enforcement records show she likely has connections to St. Paul, Chicago, and now Madison.