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Stolen identity

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Lebanon woman becomes victim of identity theft; takes matters into her own hands

By Stevie Lowery

Margaret Brockman, 68, leads a simple life.

  She and her husband of almost 49 years, Paul, live in a modest home in Lebanon.

  When they aren't visiting with their four children and numerous grandchildren, Brockman likes to sew, garden and go on walks.

  But, according to the World Wide Web, Brockman leads a very different life and has had an affair, lent her boyfriend $750,000 and is a "confirmed fraud."

  Brockman, like millions of other Americans, has become a victim of identity theft.

  "It feels like I am in some type of movie," Brockman said sitting in her kitchen last week. "It scares me. I feel like there is someone watching me."

  It all began on May 7 when Brockman received a phone call from an attorney in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., informing her that someone was using her name and address and claiming that she was in need of legal assistance after loaning a friend, Brian Smith, $750,000. 

  "I thought it was a telemarketer or something," Brockman said. "I just played it off."

  But, the attorney called back the next night, so she asked him to forward any emails or letters he had received to Lisa Nally-Martin at the Marion County Attorney's Office, which he did. The letter, which was sent on May 10, was from "Margaret Brockman" and it read:

   

  Dear Counsel,

  I am in need of your legal assistance regarding a breach of loan agreement I provided a friend of mine in the amount of $750,000. He needed this loan to complete an ongoing project he was handling in January 2011. He now resides in your jurisdiction and the loan was for 24 months with interest accrued at the rate of 8.5%. The capital and interest were supposed to be paid on January, 2013 but he has only paid $50,000. Please let me know if this falls within the scope of your practice, so that I can provide you with the loan documents and any further information you need to know.

  Thanks,

  Margaret Brockman.

  

  The attorney responded:

  Ms. Brockman,

  If you are making personal loans in the amount of $750,000, I find it extremely unlikely that you would not have engaged the services of counsel or have a legal contact more readily available than an email inquiry to an unknown attorney. Enjoy your phishing.

  Luke Fynn, Esq.

  

  The person posing as "Margaret Brockman" wrote back to that same attorney twice. 

  "Persistent, I will give this schemer that," he wrote to Lisa Nally-Martin.

  On May 9, Brockman received a letter from an attorney in Florida offering to represent her along with a $5,000 retainer agreement. On that same day, an attorney in Utah called her to warn her that someone was using her name and address. He even suggested that she call the FBI.

  During the next several weeks, Brockman was inundated with phone calls and letters from attorneys all over the country, and in Canada, either warning her about this schemer or offering to be her legal counsel.

  "It was kind of comical," Brockman's son, Stephen, said.

  Brockman took all of the letters she had received to Nally-Martin at the county attorney's office, but she was puzzled as to what could be done about it.

  A few days later, an attorney from British Columbia called Lebanon attorney Elmer George's office and spoke with Dana Reed. The attorney was informing Reed about his correspondence with "Margaret Brockman" from Lebanon.

  "She said, 'Wait a minute. That's my aunt,'" Brockman said.

  After hearing the story about Brockman allegedly loaning Brian Smith $750,000 Reed told the attorney that it had to be a scam. The attorney actually told Reed that they had received a copy of Brockman's driver's license and social security card at their office. The real Margaret Brockman asked Reed to have the attorney send everything to Nally-Martin.

  On May 29, BrockmanÕs worries worsened when she received a letter from another attorney stating that he could no longer represent her after his correspondence with Brian Smith. Enclosed with the letter were two checks the alleged Brian Smith had written to the law firm in the amounts of $285,500 and $2,500. The checks looked legitimate and were from a bank in Canada, Brockman said.

  "I didn't want those checks in my house," she said.

  Brockman took the letter and checks to Nally-Martin while her sense of frustration continued to escalate. So, she decided to do some digging of her own. On June 18, she found a website - avoidaclaim.com Ð and was completely horrified to find her name listed as a "confirmed fraud."

  "I just started screaming," Brockman said, "I just really got hysterical. I never in my life felt so many emotions at the same time. I was mad. I was angry. I didn't know what to do."

  Included on the website are letters that were allegedly written by "Margaret Brockman" seeking legal assistance for the $750,000 she is owed by "Brian Smith." The letters also state that she and "Mr. Smith" used to be in a relationship.

  According to the website, 13 lawyers in Ontario, Canada have received an email from the purported Margaret Brockman looking to retain them with regards to a breach of a business loan agreement. According to the web site, with this type of scam a lawyer is contacted to help an overseas lender collect on a business debt from a purported borrower in the lawyer's jurisdiction. The fraudster will provide documentation about the loan. A retainer agreement will be signed, but the fraudster will delay in paying the retainer fee. Instead, the lawyer will be asked to deduct any fees from the debt payment. When the lawyer has sent a demand letter (or sometimes, before any letter has been sent) a check will arrive. The lawyer will be asked to deposit the check in the trust account and wire the balance (after fees are deducted) to an overseas account. Of course, the check is fraudulent and the lawyer will be left with a shortfall in the trust account.

  After seeing her name listed as a "confirmed fraud" on the Internet, as well as the false claim that she had been having a relationship with "Brian Smith," Brockman immediately called her children to inform them of the situation. Then, she called the Marion County Sheriff's Department. A deputy responded to her home and informed her that the secret service might come and question her. But, so far, that hasn't happened.

  Brockman continues to get phone calls from attorneys from around the country. In fact, while the Enterprise was at her home interviewing her Wednesday, June 26, she received a phone call from another attorney in Florida who said he had received a letter from someone claiming to be her. The letter was sent from Canada. Brockman asked him to forward the letter to Nally-Martin.

  "My patience is just about gone," Brockman said, after hanging up the telephone with the Florida attorney. "It's embarrassing."

  Thankfully, Brockman has completed a credit check, and so far, the only thing the schemer has stolen is her name and address, not any of her money. But, nevertheless, the situation has caused Brockman a great deal of stress and anxiety.

  "You feel like you are in a world by yourself," she said. "I have let it just really consume me. They take something from you that you can't explain. It literally makes you sick."

  Brockman said she has no idea how the fraudster got her name and address. She only has one credit card, which is a JC Penny card, and she always shreds every document that has her name on it.

  "You can be as careful as possible, but they will find you," Brockman said.

  The Enterprise contacted Kentucky's Office of the Attorney General and gave Shelley Catharine Johnson, deputy communications director, Brockman's contact information. According to Johnson, a member of the consumer protection staff would be contacting Brockman to give her some assistance. 

  "Marion County does not know how to handle it. They're stumped," Brockman said. "Nobody knows what to do."

  As of Friday afternoon, no one from the Attorney General's office had contacted Brockman. But, she's not waiting around. She plans to write to every stateÕs Attorney General to explain who she is and what has happened to her.

  "That's the only thing I know to do," Brockman said. "I'm not going to wait around. I want to get this behind me."

  According to Attorney General Jack Conway, identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America. Approximately 15 million Americans have their identities used fraudulently each year with financial losses exceeding $50 billion, he said.

  "That's why it is more important than ever to protect yourself against scam artists and identity thieves," Conway said. "Be leery of unsolicited calls and never provide personal information, like a bank account number, to someone you do not know."

Conway said if you believe you are a victim of identity theft, contact local law enforcement immediately.

For additional help, or to receive an Identity Theft Victim Kit, call the Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-888-432-9257.

 

Tips from the Office of the Attorney General to protect against identity theft 

- Never give out personal information unless you initiate the contact or know the person or company with whom you are dealing.

- Do not disclose your credit card number to an online vendor unless it is encrypted and the site is secure.

- Do not write your Social Security number or telephone number on checks or credit card receipts.

- Shred documents that contain personal or financial information such as bank statements, credit card applications, store receipts or utility bills.

- Check your credit report at least twice a year and report any mistakes to the credit reporting agency in writing.