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Loss of vet's bank account shows how ID thieves prey on disabled

While serving in the Navy for nearly 22 years until 1998, Danny Morano had his share of hardships. Since 1992, he has had 20 operations, a fused spine, knee surgery and a heart attack. Among other things, he also suffered a fall.

The last thing he figured on losing, though, was his bank account.

"This time, they really, really got to me," he said.

Who stole Morano's identity and about $8,000 from his Evans National Bank account June 4 remains unknown, but area bank officials say that criminals are preying on the disabled, particularly the deaf, by using Teletypewriters, or TTY phones, to pose as intermediaries communicating for the disabled.

TTYs allow a deaf person to communicate by typing responses on a keyboard to a relay service, which communicates on the person's behalf by voice or another TTY.

"They used a program that's specially designed for people to go online, pretend it was you, transfer from one account to the other and then steal it and then drop out of sight," Morano said.

Officer Shawn D. Bishop of the Eden Police Department said that $7,800 stolen from Morano's checking account and that the money was transferred to three names in three cities. He said he did not know whether the names were fictitious.

"This is the first time I've seen this, but scams happen every day," Bishop said.

Morano, a customer of the Derby branch of Evans National, said he thought the criminals were "testing the waters" a few months earlier when $25 or $35 taken was taken out of his account and then put back in.

"It's a red flag," said Carol Ann Czora, security manager at Evans National. "Pretty much all the banks in the area, we share information on scams. This one caught my eye because all the banks started responding. They said, 'We got hit, we got hit.' "

Czora said that Morano's loss was the first time Evans National was hit with such a scam and that the problem has been more common at larger banks.

She said Morano was fully reimbursed by the bank and given new savings and checking accounts. She said that she was unsure how the phony relay system got Morano's bank account information but that Evans National has increased its security since getting hit.

Czora said criminals have tried, and failed, to hit the bank again.

"The very next day, one of our bank branches received a relay call," she said. "We asked for an employee ID number, name and a phone number to call back at. As soon as we asked for that, they hung up."

Czora said that this type of account fraud has been going on for years and that there are simple ways for people to protect their identity, even in the Internet age.

"Don't ever give your account information over the phone; don't give your Social Security number over the phone; don't give your birthday," she said. "Any combination of those things, you're opening yourself up to having fraud perpetrated on your account."

And if customers find that money is being taken out their accounts?

"If they do," she said, "they should know to contact your bank and put a hold on your account."

e-mail: cpsecht@buffnews.com

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