Mar 192012
 
Authors: Jason Pohl

Mail theft and fraud appears to be on the rise in Larimer County, prompting a series of police investigations that have led to the arrest of eight suspects March 1 and warrants for an additional four individuals last week –– all of which may be playing into a bigger problem facing the state of Colorado.

Jimmie Joe Montgomery is alleged to have been part of the thefts and is in jail on unrelated charges, according the the Larimer County Sheriff’s office.

Peter Antolich, Meradeth Antolich and Jessica Cunningham are the additional suspects with warrants out for their arrest on counts including identity theft, forgery and criminal impersonation.

The suspects are accused of stealing mail in rural areas west of Fort Collins and using “washed checks and fake identification cards,” according to John Schulz, a spokesperson for the Larimer County Sheriff’s office in an email to the Collegian.

Schulz stressed that residents should monitor their bank accounts regularly and never leave checks in an unlocked mailbox.

“I think it is safe to say that we have seen an increase in these types of crime over the last several months,” he added.

Anyone with additional information can call Crime Stoppers at (970) 221-6868.

Part of a bigger problem

The warrants and recent arrests come on the heels of an annual report released in February by the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Sentinel Network that indicates Colorado has the highest amount of reported fraud in the nation at a rate of 573 per 100,000 people –– more than 30,000 total complaints state-wide.

Additionally, the study shows that Northern Colorado continues to be a hotbed of reported fraudulent activity among cities in the U.S., with Boulder coming in at No. 5 nationally and Fort Collins at 13.

Greeley tops the list with the most cited cases of fraud among any metro area in the nation.

The reason for Greeley having the highest number of per capita complaints remains a mystery. But according to Mike Saccone, communications director for the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, the overall trend comes down to one thing: education.

“We generally believe the high rate statewide is due to consumer education efforts,” he said.

Saccone explained that intense awareness events across the state, combined with ease of reporting, encourage people to contact authorities when something seems off.

He was quick to add that living in Colorado does not necessarily mean you are more likely to be a victim of fraudulent activity.

“Identity theft does happen, and it happens all over the place,” he said.

The report also shows the number of complaints including fraud and identity theft jumped more than 24 percent in 2011 compared to 2010 from 1.46 million 1.81 million.

This is similar to a 10-year trend of rising numbers of complaints across the country.

The complete report is available online at www.ftc.gov.

“Is this emblematic of a larger problem? Yes,” Saccone added. “Consumers need to take some reasonable steps to help protect themselves.”

Anyone who thinks he or she has been a victim of any sort of fraud is encouraged to contact police immediately. Additionally, the Attorney General’s office offers an “identity theft repair kit” that provides tips on avoiding scams victim resources and legal options.

The kit is available at www.coloradoattorneygeneral.gov/idtheft.

“These sort of things happen, and nobody is immune to them,” Saccone said. “The more you prepare yourself now, the better.”

Senior Reporter Jason Pohl can be reached at news@collegian.com.

Top 5 States for reported fraud
1) Colorado
2) Delaware
3) Maryland
4) Nevada
5) Virginia

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