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Published: Wednesday, 5/10/2006

Toledo girl, 4, becomes victim of identity theft

BY CHRISTINA HALL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Four-year-old Wynter Matthews probably doesn't know what identity theft is, but she's already been a victim: The Toledo girl received a bill for $666 in hospital services she never received, her family and police said.

"It was scary. My heart skipped a beat," the girl's grandmother, Audrey Ransey, said yesterday - a day after the girl's mother opened the bill, which was mailed to Ms. Ransey's West Toledo home.

Wynter's mother, Nijah Underwood, filed a police report after opening the bill from a South Toledo collection agency. She told police she's never taken her daughter to the hospital identified in the bill and that her daughter should have no bill from there.

Ms. Ransey and Ms. Underwood said they believe whoever stole Ms. Underwood's purse last year may be using the child's Social Security and other information about her daughter that was inside to obtain services, or sold the information to someone who's using Wynter's identity illegally.

"I basically already knew what was happening," Ms. Underwood said. "She's only 4, and that's the only time my purse was stolen."

Police are investigating but have filed no charges yet.

"Most likely a child was treated at the hospital, but it wasn't [Ms. Underwood's] child," Detective Ann Smith said. "It's bizarre to send a bill to a 4-year-old."

The detective said the bill included different people that had the last name of Matthews, including Wynter. It also had different dates of service.

Detective Smith said identity theft is a huge problem, and people get away with it because there are no checks and balances. She said it's often difficult to charge offenders because it's tough to determine who they are.

The detective said she wasn't surprised that a 4-year-old was a victim of identity theft. Of the more than 255,000 identity-theft complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission last year, 5 percent involved people under 18.

Though the collection agency told Ms. Underwood neither she nor her daughter would have to pay the hospital bill, Ms. Ransey and Ms. Underwood said they are concerned because of how the identity theft could affect Wynter when she gets older.

Ironically, Ms. Underwood, works for a different collection agency. She said she now carries very little information about herself and information about her children only when necessary. They now offer the same advice to others.

"Carry the minimum information in your purse or wallet, and don't put your Social Security number on your license," Ms. Ransey said.



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