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Family members share identity theft story

Published On: Jan 31 2013 06:56:42 PM CST   Updated On: Jan 31 2013 08:50:13 PM CST

Fraud is the fastest-growing crime in the U.S., and according to the credit information company Transunion, 19 people fall victim to it every minute.

Several Madison-area women know fraud all too well, and they are sharing their story in hopes that others don't fall victim.

Carol Buckmaster said she and her two sisters are all victims of identity theft, and they suspect their estranged sibling is the perpetrator. They said their estranged sister, who is known to have more than 30 aliases, appears to be traveling the country committing identity theft crimes.

"I was moved to Texas three times," said Buckmaster, whose name appears again and again on piles of credit reports due to the identity theft.

She said she gets calls from debt collectors daily.

"My entire family are now victims of identity theft," Buckmaster said. "It has been going on -- it started in July of 2009. Our case has still not made it to the district attorney's office. Charges have not been filed yet."

"I've had my birth date changed, my address changed and my occupation changed." said Buckmaster's sister, Susan Pauls. "I'm a professor for the University of Arizona -- surprise!"

"And then here's my sister's name tied to my social security number," said Kathy Culbertson, another sister falling victim to identity theft.

The three women said they've documented 474 instances where identities were stolen.

"You don't know how I cried and prayed that when I first reported it to the police, (that) it wasn't her (the estranged sister)," Pauls said.

"According to the Federal Trade Commission, in 2008, 6 percent of the identity theft cases came from someone known to the victim," said Kimberly Hazen with Wisconsin's Better Business Bureau.

The bureau said that in all cases of identity theft, prevention should be top of mind.

"The best way to stop something is to catch it right away. And once it gets to the credit reporting agency, you've already defaulted on something. So it's important to catch it right away," Hazen said.

"We were taught that family sticks together," Pauls said. "I'm a Christian, too. You don't turn your back on people. You try to forgive; you try to move on, but it's so hard when you have everyone coming at you."

The sisters said they decided to speak out after watching a trailer for the upcoming film "Identity Thief." They said the film's comedic portrayal overlooks the serious nature of these crimes, and they plan to pass out literature on identity theft to local moviegoers next Friday, the day of the movie's premiere.

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