2014-03-14 / Front Page

Lost items create identity theft risk

By Bonnie Heater
Fort Gordon Public Affairs Office


Detective Harry Hernandez-Velez of the Fort Gordon Directorate of Emergency Service, examines the amount of lost items turned into the installation law enforcement center in the first two months of 2014. Many of the items have important individual information that could be used to steal someone’s identity. 
Photo by Bonnie Heater / Fort Gordon Public Affairs Office Detective Harry Hernandez-Velez of the Fort Gordon Directorate of Emergency Service, examines the amount of lost items turned into the installation law enforcement center in the first two months of 2014. Many of the items have important individual information that could be used to steal someone’s identity. Photo by Bonnie Heater / Fort Gordon Public Affairs Office The Fort Gordon Law Enforcement Center seems to be the most likely place to drop off lost items found on post. It’s centrally located on Rice Road next to the fire department and it’s a safe, secure place.

Over the past two months a lot has been turned in. In fact, many of the items contain a great deal of valuable, personal information about individuals. This has raised a red flag for many of the Fort Gordon police officers, particularly, Detective Harry Hernandez-Velez.

“I am concerned about identify theft,” said Detective Harry Hernandez-Velez of the Fort Gordon Directorate of Emergency Services.

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information, like your name, Social Security number or debit or credit card number without your permission. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that nearly 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. That means that close to one in 35 Americans have their identities stolen each year.

The Fort Gordon detective pointed out the number of lost items turned into to DES over the past two months that could spell trouble for someone in regard to identity theft.

“I have in my possession, which I keep locked up in the office, current U.S. passports, birth certificates, an official divorce decree from the state of Georgia, a marriage certificate with a raised seal, common access cards, military and dependent identification cards, Veterans Affairs identification cards, lots of dog tags with social security numbers on them, wallets filled with credit cards and money, a government laptop, social security cards, current drivers licenses, and a Georgia firearm carrying license which is good to 2020,” he said.

“Someone could go out and buy a car or several cars based on the information that appears on these lost items,” the detective emphasized.

“I have one social security card that was recently found that’s missing a very important thing – the owner’s signature,” he said. “Anyone can sign the card using the name on the front of the card and open up credit card and bank accounts with it.”

“We do have a lot of good Samaritans on Fort Gordon who turn these lost items into us,” he said.”We had someone turn in an envelope with $600 in it and we were able to get it back to its owner. However, because I don’t know how long an individual has had possession of a lost item, I consider these items compromised. I tell the owners to close the accounts, whether it’s a debit or credit card, and have their financial institution open up a new account for them.”

“I do what I can to get these items returned to their owners,” Hernandez-Velez said. “The Fort Gordon Directorate of Emergency Services and Provost Marshal Standard Operating Procedures require us to search for the owners of the lost items turned into us and I use five different research sources to do just that. Some of these include the Army Knowledge Online, a Department of Defense law enforcement website, and the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System.”

One of the problems the detective runs into in locating the owners of lost items is the information found in DEERS.

“Most of the time when I send a letter out to notify the owner of a lost item it’s returned, stamped ‘return to sender’,” the detective explained. “ The information in DEERS is not current. It takes just a few minutes to visit the DEERS/ ID section in Darling Hall to update your information.”

“When we are able to contact the individual by phone, an email or through the mail, we always ask them if they want their property back or if they want us to dispose of it,” Hernandez- Velez said. “Nine times out of 10 I usually don’t get a response back.”

“The message I want to get across is identity theft is on the rise again in the United States,” he said. “If you can’t locate an important document or ID card come by the law enforcement office and check with us. If it’s not here, leave your name, phone number and file a report with us. If we come across the item tomorrow or in a few weeks, I will contact you.”

The detective also encouraged people to check local pawn shops for missing items.

“With so much identity theft going on around us, you would think people would be concerned if they misplaced or lost an item in which their personal information is involved,” Hernandez-Velez said “In the last couple of months we have had a number of Soldiers and civilians come to this office and file an identity theft report. Recently a young Advance Individual Training Soldier came in to report identity theft. She had gone to the Fort Gordon Tax Center to file her taxes.”

“Soon after her taxes were electronically filed, the IRS informed her that according to their records she had already filed and cashed her refund,” he added.” The IRS required a police report from us in order for her to file her 2013 taxes and collect the refund due her. The IRS then launched an investigation into the identify theft case and discovered someone in Ohio had stolen her identity, filed a tax return and had cashed the refund.”

Capt. Scott Russ, the Fort Gordon DES Specialty Division chief, cited another recent case of identity theft they handled. According to him, an 18 year old AIT Soldier at Fort Gordon, who had married, stole someone’s identity and opened up several credit card accounts and purchased a house valued at $225,000.

“Now he has credit card debt of $30,000, a mortgage and is facing criminal charges,” said Russ.

Identity theft is a crime that can happen to anyone – thieves do not discriminate. It can happen any time, and go unnoticed for months before a person even realizes that they have become a victim of a crime.

Both law enforcement officers encourage the Fort Gordon community to be aware of missing items, particularly those that could be used to steal your identity, because once it happens it will require a lot of time and effort on your part to restore your name and credit score.

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