They trusted their neighbor, but that trust was betrayed. San Juanita Avina says she first realized something was wrong when she was at a Walmart and her 66-year--old father tried to use his credit card.
“The lady said he couldn’t. [I said,] 'What do you mean I can’t use my card?' She said because it’s canceled, it’s closed,” described Avina. “Why, it’s “maxed out”. I never use my card, how could it be over-maxed?”
Turns out her father's identity had been stolen and the card he rarely used had a $1,000 balance.
Walmart started looking into the problem and said multiple cards had been issued for the account, including one to a daughter, "Maria".
"I called them back and said there is no such person as Maria Avina that is not my name," said Avina.
The family suspected a long-time neighbor was involved and as they talked to postal inspectors, they learned they were right.
"She says, in front of me, I have another report complaint on the same individual. From then on, we took care of business," said Avina.
"She purposely befriended them, tried to make it look as though she was a caretaker, friend to them, and somebody who was trustworthy," explained US Postal Inspector Mary Johnson.
Postal inspectors say this is a common M.O. for ID thieves.
"She did that in order to obtain their identifying information, so she can become an added user on their current cards and to open up new cards," explained Johnson. "She had utility bills put in their name for her personal house."
Authorities arrested the thief, who eventually confessed, pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated ID theft and served two years in prison.
"She thought I was going to leave her alone and just let it go by and not take care of it. No, uh-uh. No. You did wrong. You abused my Dad and now you're abusing me," said Avina.
Inspectors warn we are all vulnerable to identity theft.
"It seems to be an ever-evolving crime. There is no set tone of victim right now. It's elderly, children, middle aged, college students, anybody and everybody can be a target of ID Theft," said Johnson.
Inspectors advise all consumers to shred all documents that contain any personal information.
Also, ask for a free credit report each year will help consumers find any discrepancies. Everyone is entitled to one free check every year with each of the three credit reporting agencies. The Better Business Bureau of Northeast Florida recommends the website AnnualCreditReport.com. It has step-by-step instructions and links to all three credit bureaus.