Valley Town Tops Identity Theft List

By: Ashley Ritchie & Charlene Lee

Nella Milam has lived in the same house in rural Madera for nearly 60 years.

"We used to leave the house unlocked all day long," Nella Milam said.

But those were different times.

Now she not only worries about her doors, she worries about her mailbox too.

"I was supposed to receive some checks and different things in the mail that I've never gotten. And I've called the companies, and the checks have never been cashed. But I'm sure they've disappeared out of my mailbox," she said.

"It's true. We have a large amount of identity theft," Madera County Sheriff John Anderson says.

As a matter of fact, Madera now ranks as the second worst town in the country for identity theft.

Sheriff Anderson says aside from the obvious sources of the crime, like the Internet and trash cans, the mailboxes in Madera give criminals something they don't get in bigger cities.

"In the rural part of our county, mailboxes are sometimes miles from the home. A lot of information passes through the mail," he said.

And often it falls into the hands of criminals.

"These thieves are very sophisticated. They'll go through and pick the information they want and leave the rest in there. Quite often, the theft's not even noticed by the individual," Sheriff Anderson said.

Madera County averages 280 complaints per 100,000 residents a year.

It's a number the Sheriff says isn't easily tackled.

"It's very difficult because over the Internet, they don't even have to be in this country," he said.

Nella Milam says, to avoid becoming a target, she keeps an eye on her bank account and her mailman.

"They're usually here between 10 and 11 every day. So by 11:30, I go out and get the mail and bring it in the house," she said.

Another sign of the changing times, just like the locked doors behind her.

Sheriff Anderson says identity thefts have become so common in Madera County, his department now uses self-reporting forms instead of sending a deputy out to investigate.

Other valley cities also made the list. Hanford ranked seventh. And Fresno is number 30.