Owner of Houston-area car dealership says he’s been targeted repeatedly by identity thieves

WEBSTER, Texas – When you think of identity theft, you might think it is strictly an online crime. But, the Houston Police Department is dealing with more and more cases involving identity thieves who are walking into car dealerships and using fake documents to purchase vehicles.

Texas Auto, a dealership in Webster, has been repeatedly targeted, according to owner Phillip Sommer.

Sommer contacted KPRC 2 after he saw a report about Terrian Barnes, the woman accused of dressing like a man and using a stolen identity to purchase a luxury car. Sommer said that is only a small piece of a much larger issue that he’s dealt with over and over.

“These are professional crime organizations," Sommer said.

He says he’s had about 20 vehicles stolen over the past ten years by thieves using stolen identities. Sommer says this not only hurts the person whose identity has been stolen, but it also causes his insurance rates to skyrocket.

“Now, I have $150,000 to $200,000 claims in a year,” Sommer said.

When the lender loses money, the cost is then passed on to the consumer in the form of higher interest rates, Sommer said.

“We’re constantly trying to prevent more people from stealing cars from us,” Sommer said.

He said it has gotten so bad that he’s been forced to use additional measures to detect fraud so his employees don’t fall for it, including finer printing.

“Basically all the software that is afforded to us to be able to try to catch these guys, we utilize, however, these are smart characters," he said.

About 50% of the time, Sommer says he gets his stolen vehicles back and when he does about half the time they are totaled.

“You’re causing all of us to pay a lot more money, including your own family, your own friends and your own community,” Sommer said.

How to protect your identity from thieves

Sommer suggested investing in a good credit monitoring service to safeguard your personal information. Investigators also recommend checking your credit score and accounts several times a day and to immediately report any suspicious activity.

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