Men accused of stealing from car customers

November 6, 2008 8:55:50 PM PST
Two Houston men are behind bars, accused of stealing from customers of a local car dealership. And as a result, police have a warning for potential victims. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

A Lawrence Marshall dealership on the South Loop has been closed since February, but the corporate office in Hempstead is dealing with a huge problem that originated here. They say they go to extreme measures to protect their customers' personal information. But somehow, sales contracts for 800 customers walked away.

What started as an anonymous tip about drug activity at a southwest Houston home has turned into what could be one of HPD's biggest cases of identity theft.

"We're talking potentially hundreds of victims that could be affected by this thing," said Victor Senties with the Houston Police Department.

Inside a home on Willowbend near South Post Oak, police say they found not only 50 ounces of cocaine, but also 16 boxes containing sales contracts for customers who bought vehicles back in 2006. The files came from the now closed Lawrence Marshall dealership on the South Loop.

Manuel Souza and Ray Whitmer, both of whom lived there, were arrested, but police fear the damage may have already been done.

"You've got people's driver's license numbers, addresses, Social Security numbers," said Senties. "It's just asking for trouble."

So HPD is warning people who bought cars, SUVs and trucks there two years ago they may be at risk for identity theft as they're still trying to figure out just how the two suspects got the private information.

Both the Hempstead-based dealership and HPD say neither Souza nor Whitmer is a former employee. The dealership says someone must have broken in, although they didn't know the files were gone until they were found. An executive assistant told us they're a victim of crime, too. They're working with HPD to answer any questions and to help with any customer concerns that may arise.

Meantime, customers should take action.

"Get a copy of your credit report and see if there is strange activity," said Senties.

That's one of the tips we have:

  • Order copies of your credit report from each of the 3 major credit bureaus
  • Call police if you notice any fraudulent transactions
  • Place an alert on your credit file. You can do it by contacting a credit bureau.

    Both Souza and Whitmer are in jail. We went by the southwest Houston home and though we could see someone was inside, no one answered the door.

    If you notice any fraud, call the Houston Police Department at 713-884-3131. Lawrence Marshall says you can call them, too, if you have any questions. That numbers is 713-358-4370.

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