We’ve all received the e-mails encouraging us to forward the encouraging or thoughtful message we just received to everyone in our address book. Great spiritual rewards will be reaped, we are promised, if we keep the message in circulation. Some of us tired of those messages a long time ago, while others continue to share them in an effort to “keep the chain” unbroken. That was the case last week with a message specific to the Central Texas area.
Will Carrier, the owner of Willie’s T’s, learned in late August that someone was writing checks that bore his name, address and driver’s license number at various stores in San Angelo. They were not drawn on any of Carrier’s bank accounts, but as the checks began to bounce the check processing agencies contacted him to straighten out the situation. A few days later Carrier received several images of the man who was believed to be writing the checks. He had been caught on tape by a convenience store video camera in San Angelo.
Those images were attached to an e-mail that Carrier sent to everyone in his e-mail address book, hoping that by chance one of his contacts would know the suspect. One of the recipients of his e-mail, Steve McNabb, the PGA Professional at Brownwood Country Club, forwarded the message and pictures to a couple of his friends in San Angelo. They kept the chain going by forwarding the message to some of their friends, one of whom actually recognized the suspect. Police are compiling evidence before an arrest in the case — evidence that apparently includes checks written using the name and other personal information of a second Brownwood area resident.
There are numerous methods that criminals employ to steal their victims’ identities. We have all heard the stories about stolen and misplaced laptop computers containing the personal records of millions of people. Almost all of us with e-mail have received the messages asking us to update banking and other accounts that have supposedly been breached — or been offered vast riches in exchange for a cashier’s check or our checking account number. Similar appeals are made over the phone.
Criminals are known to go dumpster-diving looking for check stubs, account numbers and other personal information that would allow them to open credit accounts in our name. They watch us enter passwords on ATM machines and at grocery store checkout lines. There are even accounts of wait staff swiping our credit and debit cards into a separate reader when we pay for our meals at restaurants. And no matter how many warnings we receive, or stories the newspapers publish, the criminals are always able to find additional victims.
Although Carrier used popular technology to track down the thief in this case, the crimes committed were low-tech in many ways — and a sobering reminder that criminals will use any method they can to take advantage of others. The thief in this case apparently did not hack into any computerized accounts and did not phish for information using a bogus e-mail request. He simply used doctored checks, which included some “real” information, to commit his crimes.
Hopefully the legal system will resolve this matter quickly and Carrier can get back to those things that are important to him — which among other things included last week’s e-mailed “thank you” to those who helped him solve this crime by continuing to forward his message.
Bill Crist is associate publisher of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.