MILWAUKEE COUNTY/RACINE COUNTY — There is a new victim every three seconds. Nationwide, last year, 17 million people were hurt by this crime.
Police rarely catch this type of crime as it happens, but FOX6's Contact 6 got a rare look at a financial crime in progress: identity theft.
In this story
So many questions led up to this point. For answers, you have to go back to St. Patrick's Day when Detective John Milotzky of the Wauwatosa Police Department tried to connect the dots of this crime. He questioned Bowens after his arrest.
"So how did you end up getting arrested yesterday?" Detective Milotzky asked Bowens in the interrogation.
"I don't know. The only thing is, I was looking for an iPad for my girl," Bowens responded.
Police already had surveillance footage that showed Bowens inside the Best Buy in Wauwatosa.
In the video, you can see Bowens chatting with an employee. He does not realize the employee is stalling for police to arrive.
The reason employees knew to keep an out for Bowens was because he went to the Best Buy in Greenfield first. He tried to make a purchase with a fake credit card and it got declined. He immediately left.
The manager at the Greenfield Best Buy decided to call other area stores to be on the lookout.
"When they observed him enter, they immediately called us. So, our patrol squads were literally parked outside the store waiting for him when he came out after trying to make another purchase," Detective Milotzky said.
Police busted Bowens with a fake ID and credit cards. In all, Bowens was carrying four identities from four different states.
Bowens' crime isn't unusual.
Zachary Barron-Melton and Andrew Moultrie are accused of similar crimes.
According to the criminal complaint, the pair tried to access someone else's AT&T account using fake IDs at an AT&T store in Mount Pleasant. Police arrested them a short time later.
Authorities say they are familiar with these types of scams because of similar investigations around the area. Police say this type of identity theft is becoming more attractive.
Detective Milotzky says creating the fake cards is easy.
"You can get any gift card that's got a magnetic strip and recode that and use it just like a credit card," Detective Milotzky said.
Police say selling them is even easier, thanks to the internet.
"Potentially that is where you can see a victim here in Wauwatosa — all of a sudden their credit card number ends up getting used in India," Detective Milotzky said.
While people like Bowen, Barron-Melton and Moultire get caught — they aren't the only ones involved.
"We might arrest someone using counterfeit credit cards and they don't know where that account number came from. They just bought it," Detective Milotzky said.
During the interrogation, Bowens revealed that's what he did.
"So, you paid 20 bucks for the ID and the four credit cards?" Detective Milotzky asked Bowens.
"Yeah," Bowens responded.
Detective Milotzky says whoever sold the cards to Bowens didn't do a good job.
"What did he tell you about the credit cards?" Detective Milotzky asked Bowens during questioning.
"He didn't tell me nothing. He didn't tell me anything. He said they might work and might not," Bowens revealed.
Even though the police caught Bowens, they say it's likely the account numbers on the cards he bought were used on others.
"He probably sent them to 20 more people — ain't no tellin'," Bowens told Detective Milotzky.
So it's possible the numbers Bowens tried to use are still out there.
If you are concerned you are a victim of identity theft or you want to be proactive in protecting your information, there's plenty you can do.
It's important to check your bank account and card statements regularly. In addition, check your credit report. You can get a free one each year. If you monitor activity, you're more likely to notice when something isn't right.
If you notice any suspicious activity, inform your bank or credit card company and contact one of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion or Experian.) You can place a fraud alert on your credit file. Your alert will be forwarded to the two other credit bureaus.
Also, don't forget to contact your local police — no matter where the crime occurred.
Bowen was sentenced to one year in prison.
Barron-Melton and Moultrie are awaiting trial. Both men appear in court for hearings in August.