David Kachel said Monday that he’s on the verge of losing everything he has.
Kachel, of Schenevus, is a victim of identity theft and owes credit card companies more than $15,000 for purchases he says he didn’t make. What’s worse, he said, is that his disabled 9-year-old daughter, Sara, is no longer receiving important disability benefits and cannot attend expensive doctor’s appointments.
Kachel, 41, is not alone. According to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network, New York ranks fifth among states with the highest percentage of identity theft. The state had 21,538 complaints of identity theft in 2012, according to the organization, which collects information about consumer fraud and identity theft from the FTC, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Secret Service, Attorney Generals Offices and state and local law enforcement agencies.
Specific statistics for each year are difficult to nail down because not all cases are reported, according to the Consumer Sentinel Network.
Lt. Douglas Brenner said the Oneonta Police Department gets reports of identity theft about four or five times a year. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen more frequently, he said.
“With identity theft, you don’t just suddenly realize that your identity has been stolen,” Brenner said. “It’s more gradual and it takes time before you notice. People see that their credit card has been used, look into it and see that items have been bought fraudulently. It’s devastating to have your identity stolen. It can affect your credit, your ability to pay bills ... many things.”
According to Identity Hawk, a leading identity fraud detection and prevention service, more than 11 million — or one in ten — U.S. consumers have experienced identity theft. On average, it took victims 132 days to notice fraudulent activity on their accounts. After being reported to police, the case is assigned to a detective, Brenner said. Some cases can be solved, but some cannot. For instance, it’s more difficult to track down a culprit who is located in a different state or country.
Kachel said his problems started a few years ago when he received a bill from Verizon for a house phone line in Oneonta. He took the bill to Verizon, where representatives suggested that he show the bill to police. Since then, various organizations and services have given Kachel “the run-around,” he said.
On May 8, Kachel received a letter saying his daughter’s disability checks would be cut off, and funding she has received since 2009 needs to be paid back in full. The reason?
“They’re saying I’m not her father,” Kachel said, “that I’ve been impersonating someone to get these checks. I’ve brought birth certificates, social security cards, anything I can think of, to the local Social Security office, but they won’t accept them or believe me because someone else is pretending to be me. ... They wouldn’t let me talk to a manager. They’re supposed to be there to help, but they don’t care.”
When Kachel went to re-finance his home recently, he also discovered that someone has been fraudulently using his credit card, he said. He filed a report with the New York State Police, who were helpful, but couldn’t do much for him since Social Security refuses to verify his identity, Kachel said.
According to Identity Hawk, credit-card fraud is the most popular crime for identity thieves. Of the victims of identity theft, 38 percent had their debit or credit card number stolen and 24 percent had a financial number compromised. More than 43 percent of all identity theft is a result of a stolen wallet or paperwork and 11 percent occurs through the internet.
Kachel said his wife works part-time because of an injury and Kachel, who is also disabled, stopped working at Oneonta’s China 19 restaurant recently because of an upcoming heart surgery.
“We’re living off very little income,” Kachel said.
Kachel said he recently applied for welfare, but was again unsuccessful because of identification issues. No one believes he is who he says he is, Kachel said.
The Kachels frequently bring Sara, who is autistic, has muscular dystrophy and suffers from a seizure disorder, to Albany Medical Center for doctor’s appointments. Now, Kachel said, they can no longer afford it and have already had to cancel her upcoming appointment.
Kachel said he doesn’t know how he will pay for his approaching surgery or the mortgage on his home. He is also dealing with car problems, he said.
“I don’t understand how this can all be happening,” Kachel said.
Donald Rebovich, executive director of the the Center for Identity Management and Information Protection at Utica College, said it would be wise for Kachel to hire an attorney. It could take a while, but legal recourse may be necessary, Rebovich said. In these types of situations the burden is, unfortunately, left on the victim to prove they were victimized, but getting a good attorney is one of the most important things he or she can do.
Kachel said he has contacted a lawyer, who he hopes will be able to help sort things out. His brother-in-law, a retired policeman, is also trying to help.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Kachel said. “I might lose everything I have, including my house and car. But the important thing is that I don’t lose my daughter. I don’t care if I lose everything else, as long as someone doesn’t come in and say I’m unfit to care for her because of my financial situation.”