HOUSTON – Lauren Campbell is a dermatologist who spends her days warning dozens of patients to take care of their skin, but this week she can give her patients a different kind of warning.
“Someone’s gone to like 20 stores and pretended to be me,” she told one of her patients. “They have a fake ID. They have a fake social security card. I mean, it’s just horrible.”
Campbell’s troubles apparently started with the holiday season’s massive security breach at Target department stores. Within days of receiving notice that her confidential information might have been compromised, fraudulent credit accounts in her name had been opened at a series of Houston area retailers.
“I was able to see where someone on January 2nd had gone online and requested a copy of my credit report,” Campbell said. “So they were able to obtain all my information from that. So it’s scary. They get all my old addresses, all my open accounts, mortgages. Anything you have, they know everything about you pretty much at that point.”
But her sadly common story took a curious twist over the weekend when she received a credit card bearing a unique piece of evidence: a photograph of a strange woman on the back of a Costco membership card.
“I’m looking at the card,” she remembered, her voice cracking with laughter. “And I turned it over and there’s her picture.”
Costco requires shoppers to apply for membership cards that include photographs taken in stores. American Express offers credit cards through Costco that are popular with customers seeking lucrative cash back rewards.
So a thief applying for a credit card in a Costco store could have her photograph snapped, get a temporary card and go on a shopping spree. Only later would the victim receive a card in the mail, bearing a picture of a stranger.
Whoever stole Campbell’s identity racked up about $30,000 in fraudulent charges during a five-day period, she said, including a couple of diamond rings and more than $1,000 worth of stuff taken from a Toys R Us store.
Campbell filed a police report and spent what she estimated as more than 40 hours on the phone. Then, when she got the credit card with the photograph, she sent emails to local television stations suggesting they broadcast the picture.
“Someone out there in my hometown – Houston is my hometown, I’m a native Houstonian – is running around pretending to be me, opening up accounts, charging other people money, using my name to commit crime,” she said. “That really bothers me.”