HUNTSVILLE (Source Cody Stark The Huntsville Item, Texas (MCT) — Identity theft is everyone’s worst nightmare. It can cause a tangle of webs that can ruin someone’s life financially in the blink of an eye.
Thanks to the help of a Huntsville Police Department officer, one less identity thief is on the streets. Det. Scott Bennett assisted the United States Secret Service in bringing to justice Christopher Tyrone Cooper, 32, of Huntsville on Tuesday. Cooper has been federally indicted on charges of bank fraud and aggravated identity theft by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
According to the indictment, Cooper obtained the Social Security number and identity of a victim from out of state who had the same first and last name. The suspect used this information to compile more than $50,000 in credit at a number of FDIC-insured and non-insured institutions, medical facilities and other businesses.
“Basically the suspect had similar personal information to the victim and used it to steal his identity,” Bennett said Wednesday. “The victim had gone everywhere to get help and found out the suspect lived here. The Secret Service contacted us, and since we were familiar with the suspect, we helped in the investigation.”
Cooper has a lengthy criminal history in Walker County, including arrests for drug-related crimes as well as tampering with evidence and evading arrest. He previously spent time in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on a 10-year sentence for two counts of delivery of a controlled substance before being released in April 2008.
Cooper was arrested in Houston on Tuesday by the Secret Service after a six-month investigation. Law enforcement was able to build its case by obtaining records that indicate the suspect opened at least 17 credit accounts through which he able to receive property and services without ever making a payment.
The indictment also states that Cooper allegedly obtained financing from Bank of America to purchase a vehicle in March 2010. Bennett said they are still investigating how the suspect was able to obtain the victim’s information.
Cooper faces a maximum of 30 years in prison and a fine of $1 million if convicted of bank fraud and an additional two years to be served consecutively to any other sentence if convicted of aggravated identity theft.
“This was a major headache for our victim,” Bennett said. “He was going to buy a house and get married, but the suspect was ruining his credit. There was nowhere to go for him. The Secret Service has been wonderful and they are helping the victim sort through this.”
Even though the victim was not from the Walker County area, HPD wants to remind citizens to make sure a similar incident does not happen to them.
The Federal Trade Commission encourages people to keep an eye out for any suspicious activity by routinely monitoring financial statements and credit reports. The law requires each of the major nationwide consumer reporting agencies to provide people with a free copy of their credit report, at their request, once every 12 months.
“We want to stress to the public how important it is to protect all your personal information,” HPD Chief Kevin Lunsford said. “These kind of things can be life altering for the victims.”
For more information on identity theft and tips to prevent it, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website at www.ftc.gov.
©2012 The Huntsville Item (Huntsville, Texas)
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