Wednesday, August 1, 2001

ID theft victim
wants credit cleared

James Odom gave out his
Social Security number "as a joke"

By Treena Shapiro

Giving Lonnie Webster his Social Security number seemed like a joke at the time, but James Odom is not laughing now.

Odom, 24, recently found out that Webster, 29, had been using his identity since at least 1995, racking up $64,000 in student loans and bad debt in Hawaii, Kansas and even with a veterinarian in Pennsylvania.

Odom said he gave Webster his Social Security number "as a joke, kinda. I don't really remember whether I gave him the card or the number."

Webster used the number to reinvent himself, getting a driver's license bearing Odom's name. As Odom, he enrolled in Kailua High School -- even though he was in his early 20s -- and was a star fullback on the football team.

Odom, then 16, hung out with Webster's older crowd when they both lived in Pensacola, Fla., but they were not good friends. "I knew him, but I didn't know personal things of him like his other friends probably knew."

For instance, although he knew that Webster had been arrested, he did not know why.

"He was just a little-glitch-in-my-life kind of deal."

Odom, a high school dropout who is studying for his GED to get into the Brownsville Revival School of Ministry, said he was not surprised to learn that there was a high school diploma with his name on it from Kailua High School. He has never even visited Hawaii.

"My mind is just so rattled right now," he said. "Nothing surprises me anymore."

Odom first learned that Webster was using his identity about two years ago when he was trying to apply for a car loan and the salesman brought up the student loans.

"That's when I found out that all this stuff was on my credit report, and I just kind of dropped my jaw," he said.

Odom tried to get the problem fixed then, to no avail.

He called Sallie Mae, which distributed the student loans, to let them know that someone else was taking out the loans in his name.

"They kind of shrugged it off," he said.

He called Equifax, who issued the credit report. "They never got back with me."

He called Bethel College in Kansas, where Webster is close to finishing his degree.

"I felt like Bethel College, they are the authority figures, I felt they were the ones that needed to handle this, at least do an investigation," he said.

But the college did not pursue his claim.

So Odom, who was going through a divorce at the time, just dropped it.

Then Odom was turned down for a department store credit card. "God told me I needed to get this situation behind me, so I went ahead and ordered a credit report," he said.

"Once you look at your credit report and see somebody else is getting loans and stuff under your name, you'd be scared, too."

That's when he called his stepfather, Ted Chamberlain, a Pensacola police detective. Chamberlain said tracking Webster down in Kansas was easy and just took a call to a detective there.

"It wasn't that hard -- just a regular old investigation, nothing major," Chamberlain said.

Although Webster has used Odom's name on his bank account and car registration, Odom said he does not care about any of that. He just wants his credit report cleared.

He also has no desire to face Webster again and is not concerned about any penalties Webster may be facing.

"I'm more worried about how to straighten out my life and how to take care of my son," he said.

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