Thieves steal identities of northeast Ohio residents, make $100,000 in fraudulent purchases

CLEVELAND - Identity thieves have targeted northeast Ohio residents, racking up more than $100,000 in fraudulent charges.

Fraudulent charges are piling up from J.Crew, Office Depot, Best Buy and more. Police say more than $14,000 has been racked up on Matthew Stein's credit from a spending spree in New York, where an identity thief opened seven credit cards in Stein's name.

"It's a little scary," Stein said. "The thing that surprised me the most was credit agencies don't have better alarms to tip them off to this."

Stein is one of 16 victims.

The 5 On Your Side Consumer Unit found the thieves used identities of northeast Ohio residents in states across the country from New York to California. The thieves have allegedly spent more than $100,000 at 13 stores including Best Buy, Kohl's and Macy's.

Berea and Copley police are investigating. Both agencies say the victims live in Ryan Homes developments. The company has not returned repeated calls for comment, but police say Ryan Homes has not acknowledged a security breach.

"The best we can determine, they all had the same builder and we are focusing on that as part of the investigation," said Copley Township Police Lt. Luke Marchmon. "Detectives have been in contact with Ryan Homes and they have been cooperative."

Police believe the thieves have a lot of information including social security numbers and copies of driver's licenses.

"I got a call from a detective outside of New York City and they caught someone with my ID," Stein explained.

Steven T. Digsby was arrested in New York on five counts of criminal possession, including ID theft.

"The picture was different. The height, weight, address were the same, and for whatever reason, the driver's license number was one digit different," Stein explained.

Police say Digsby may not be the one who stole the identities. He's only accused of using one victim's identity.

"If an individual steals an identity, they can sell it off to others. That's the tough part of solving the crime," Marchmon explained.

Two of the victims have identity theft insurance which they previously bought. They say it's been helpful in cleaning up this mess, as it takes dozens of calls and hours on the phone trying to clear your name when you're a victim.

Many consumer agencies don't endorse buying identity theft insurance because you can make the calls to clean up your identity yourself. However, the victims who have the insurance say it's worth the $100 or more they spend every year to feel protected.

Sometimes, employers and banks offer the insurance at a reduced cost.

This is a good reminder to keep constant tabs on your identity. You can check your credit report once a year for free through AnnualCreditReport.com. There are three credit agencies, and if you want to keep tabs on your identity year-round, check one agency every four months. For example, check TransUnion through AnnaulCreditReport.com in January and then four months later Experian and so on.

On Thursday, we will have credit counselors and a representative from the Federal Trade Commission in studio from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. to answer your credit questions.

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