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Howard Ain, Troubleshooter: Fraud hits close to home

CINCINNATI (Howard Ain) -- Identity theft remains a big problem but it's not always the anonymous cyber hackers people need to fear.
   
Quite often the thief is not a stranger.  People would think they could trust members of their own family with their personal information.  But in this case, sometimes family and friends are high on the list of likely identity thieves.

Jessica Plowden, a fraud victim, said, "It was greed.  I really think she has a problem.  She does not care.  Anytime you can do things like this to your elderly parents, your own son, your dead sister."
 
They were all victims of identity theft and it might be hard to believe who did it.
 
Jessica said, "Someone got a hold of my personal information and this someone just so happened to be my aunt."
 
Her name is Dawn Johnson.
 
Jessica, along with other relatives, had their personal information compromised by a member of their own family.
 
"She got my Social Security number from a piece of personal mail that was sent to my grandmother's house," Jessica said.
 
Postal Inspectors said Johnson took out a car loan, credit cards and committed tax fraud.
 
Frank Schissler, A U.S. Postal Inspector, said, "By submitting fraudulent tax returns in other individual's names and by adding on dependents who weren't actual dependents of those victims, in order to increase the fraudulent return money."
 
She also applied for unemployment benefits in her niece's name, which was how Jessica found out there was a problem.
 
Jessica explained, "She tried to frame me for an unemployment fraud that she had done.  So it's just been a whole list of things."
 
Investigators said this wasn't surprising.
 
Schissler said, "Statistics have shown that victims of ID theft are two and a half times more likely to be victimized by a friend or family member than they are by having their ID stolen through the mail."
 
"I think it was easier for her to prey on family considering the fact that you know, family is trust.  If you trust your family with your personal information you would never think they would do things like that to you," Jessica said.
 
The lesson for Jessica, "Trust no one. Clearly, I couldn't even trust my own family. Make sure you keep up to date with credit reports."
 
Schissler advised, "Review that report for any accounts that are in your name that you didn't open."

Dawn Johnson confessed to her crimes and was sentenced to a year in jail.  She was also ordered to pay more than $42,000 in restitution.


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