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Collector accused in theft of identity Woman victimized by telephone ploy

A "rogue" Buffalo debt collector wasted no time running up debt on a Pittsburgh-area woman's bank card after he convinced her to clear up an old bill, police say.

He ordered hundreds of dollars in new bowling equipment, bought access to a pornography Internet site, paid someone's car insurance and purchased cash cards using Mary Reynolds' debit card number, according to Buffalo police and Reynolds.

But by midweek, the spending spree of almost $1,900 was over.

Antonio R. Speed, 37, of Northumberland Avenue was arrested on two counts of identity theft. And though that was of some comfort to Reynolds, she says she remains afraid because he has all her personal information.

"He called my mother and threatened to have her arrested for credit card fraud if she did not cooperate with the investigation. She gave him my phone number, and he threatened to have me arrested," Reynolds said of calls Speed is accused of making last month when he was employed at Graham and Noble Associates, a collection agency on Bailey Avenue.

Speed, she said, introduced himself on the phone as "investigator Dave Murdock," who said he was calling on an unpaid Shell gas card bill of $399 from 2000.

Reynolds said a former friend had taken out several credit cards in her name after they broke up and that she was not responsible for the gasoline bill.

As the discussion grew heated, she said that "Murdock" brought up an incident from years ago when she had illegally picked flowers on private property and had gotten into trouble with the law.

Angered, she started arguing, and her husband took over the phone. More discussion followed, and "Murdock" offered a compromise -- pay $168 and the matter would be dropped.

Reynolds said she did not want to, but her husband agreed, believing it wasn't worth the aggravation. She again spoke with the purported investigator, telling him that her former friend had a drug problem that might have had something to do with taking out credit cards in her name.

With the threats of jail put aside, Speed confided in her that when he was 21 he had been "a crack head," Reynolds said. That admission, she said, sent up a red flag, but despite her better judgment, she went ahead and gave him the number on the debit card for her family's business, a transmission repair shop.

Days later, her bank called her when bank employees noticed some uncharacteristic charges to the card.

"He bought three bowling balls, a pair of bowling shoes and bowling shoe covers. He also paid $162 for overnight shipping. He did everything online. He paid someone's car insurance. He bought prepaid credit cards and he even went on a paid porn site," she said.

After speaking with her bank, she said she froze the account, which resulted in a loss of business for several days because vendors could not be paid. After she contacted authorities in Pennsylvania and the Buffalo area, Northeast District Detective James Dunham got involved in the case.

"Speed saw an opportunity, and he took it. I had a chance to ask him 'Don't you think it's strange that this bank card information would come back to Buffalo and she [Reynolds] doesn't know anybody in Buffalo. He said, 'Yeah, that's strange,' " Dunham said.

Dunham said Omar Smith, the owner of the collection agency, aided the investigation.

"The company was very, very cooperative and apologetic. They canceled the bill she owed," Dunham said of the Shell gas card.

Smith said steps have since been taken to record all the calls made by his bill collectors to screen their activities.

"Once we discovered this was a rogue collector, we were going to do everything to help the consumer," he said, adding that even after all of this happened, Speed called the agency a couple days ago, "asking about his paycheck."

Smith said his agency provides employment in a section of the city where good paying jobs are limited.

"It's unfortunate that this transpired, but it could happen at any agency," Smith said.

Speed remains in the Erie County Holding Center.

Reynolds offered some advice: "Don't give out any information over the phone."

e-mail: lmichel@buffnews.com

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