Regena Nunn of Vinemont was in the process of buying a house when she learned that she supposedly owed more than $789,000 in unpaid bills.

Some of her "debt," $189,000 worth was for a foreclosed house in Virginia Beech, Va., a location that she had never been.

The facts were clear. Nunn had been the victim of identity fraud. Someone had been using her name to open credit accounts and not paying the bills.

That was three years ago, and Nunn, an add consultant at The Times, is still in the process of clearing her name.

According to the mother of three, she must check her credit report every three months, and new charges pop up all the time.

The latest was attempted charge of $23,000 for an automobile in Louisiana. That one did not go through, but the clues point to one culprit.

Nunn's nemesis stays on the run, living at more than 37 addresses to date. Probably a former military personnel, she shares the same first name and middle initial as Nunn.

Their Social Security numbers differ by only two, inverted digits. They were also born in the same year and share the same date of birth, but different months.

"What happens is when she doesn't pay her bills and then moves and the creditors can't find her," said Nunn. "Then they see my name and all this matching information and assume she's gotten married or gone back to her maiden name."

While Nunn has not contacted local authorities about her case—thinking it useless at this point—she did have fraud alert put on her credit report, which helps.

She also spends countless hours on the phone trying remove fraudulent charges. She even tried to change her Social Security number, but was told her case was simply an anomaly that she would have to deal with on her own.

"I just got my first credit card since it happened," said Nunn. "I don't understand how she gets all this stuff and I can't."

While the severity of Nunn's situation is unique, her victimization is not.

According to the Web site www.identitytheftalabama.com, Alabama alone has had more than 2,100 reported incidents of identity theft.

While the number of cases in Cullman are not available, Cullman Sheriff Tyler Roden said it can be a big problem for local residents.

"The problem is when the crime is committed, it could takes weeks or even months before it is detected," said Roden. "We are seeing it as an emerging issue that is popping up more and more as time goes by."

Roden gave a number of tips for protecting one's self against identity theft. He said that most thefts occur through theft of a check book a credit card, so keep them close by.

"Never provide personal information over the phone unless you are very familiar with them or their company," he said.

In addition, Roden said not to have phone numbers, license numbers or Social Security number printed on checks.

"If a business wants that information they can ask for it," he said.

Finally, he said residents should limit the number of checks they carry to just what they need for that day, not the whole checkbook, and that mail and other personal documents should be shredded before they are thrown away.

"We haven't seen many high-tech cases yet, but it seems like every day criminals find new ways to commit crimes," Roden concluded.

One controversy that has emerged in the fight against identity theft involves the use of cell phones capable of recording video.

Thieves can use the video to record a persons credit card number at the checkout or ATM and can even record what keys they hit on the key pad to get their pin number.

While Roden admits that it is impossible to be completely protected from identity theft, a local banker told The Times what residents should do if they are a victim.

"The first thing they need to do is to get a fraud alert put on their credit," said Paula Bodkin of Eva Bank in Cullman.

That can be done by calling the three main credit bureaus, which are Equifax, Experian and Transunion, she said.

According to Bodkin, banks and lending institutions report to these bureaus for credit reports. If there is a fraud alert, institutions will investigate before opening up new credit lines.

Readers should be forewarned though. According to Nunn, credit bureaus will ask a series of questions that must be answered correctly to complete the report.

"They asked me like 20 questions," she said. "If I answered one wrong, I was denied."

Bodkin said it was best to contact all three credit bureaus for maximum security. She also said to notify local banks and authorities of the fraud.

In addition, she said it was a good idea for people to check their credit at least once a year, which can usually be done for free of for a nominal fee with any of the credit bureaus.

Roden said the penalty for identity theft depends on the amount stolen.

"The problem is if that amount is less than $100 and the criminal lives out of state, it's a misdemeanor and we can't have them extradited back to Alabama to face charges," he said.

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