Suspect named in recent credit card theft scam

Tuesday, January 9, 2007
Two people were injured in a head-on collision at 9:02 a.m. Tuesday on U.S. 231 at Plessinger Hill north of U.S. 40. Trooper Christopher Harcourt reports that Dustin Shannon, 19, Cloverdale, was northbound in a 1981 GMC truck when he fell asleep at the wheel. His truck ran off the road and he overcorrected, crossing the center line and colliding with a 2005 Honda driven by Sephen Jarrell, 59, Greencastle. Both men were taken to Putnam County Hospital for treatment of injuries.

Indiana State Police officers have identified a man who they believe stole an elderly Putnam County woman's credit card and check book in early December.

ISP Detective Brian Smith told the BannerGraphic Monday that Zachary K. Gootee, 28, of Putnam County, was identified by several people after his picture appeared in the BannerGraphic and on Indianapolis television stations last month.

He is currently being held in the Marion County Jail on shoplifting charges and will be brought back to Putnam County to face felony charges of forgery, theft and conspiracy to commit forgery, Smith said.

Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter said Monday that Gootee faces a possible 19 years in prison if convicted on all charges.

"It should always be remembered that these allegations have not been proven and the defendant has the presumption of innocence," Bookwalter said in announcing the charges Monday afternoon.

Gootee is also wanted in Hendricks County on drug possession charges, according to a probable cause affidavit.

State police officers told the BannerGraphic that a man, who they believe to be Gootee, went to 93-year-old Ruth Stanger's home near Fillmore early in December, claiming his truck had run out of gas.

Stanger said she invited the suspect into her home to use the telephone, but when she left the room, the suspect stole her purse which contained a credit card and a check book.

Police say Gootee used Stanger's credit card and checks to purchase items at a Bainbridge liquor store as well as various electronic items at department stores in Avon and Indianapolis.

In all, police believe Gootee spent almost $3,000 from Stanger's checking account. They did not know how much he charged to her credit card.

Smith said it would be up to the credit card company to determine if Stanger would get her money back.

A store clerk at an Indianapolis Meijer store told police that he remembered selling Gootee a flat-screen television using Stanger's credit card. Video surveillance showed the man walking out of the store carrying the items.

The BannerGraphic published the pictures on Dec. 12 and they appeared on Indianapolis TV news programs the next day.

Smith said Crime Stoppers of Indiana received several tips identifying Gootee as the "mystery man" and forwarded them to the ISP Putnamville Post. Officers there conducted several interviews, including Gootee himself who according to a police report denied the images were him.

Other so-called "criminal associates, friends and girlfriends" of Gootee's were interviewed and gave positive identification, according to the probable cause affidavit.

Unfortunately, thefts like the one involving Stanger are not unfamiliar to Smith who is a master detective with the Indiana State Police Criminal Investigation Division.

"Credit card/I.D. theft is one of our most frequent crimes we investigate," Smith said. "It used to be people would rob a bank using a gun. Now they rob people's bank accounts using a computer."

The Federal Trade Commission suggests the following tips if you think you have been the victim of credit card fraud:

-- Contact the fraud departments of any one of the three consumer reporting companies to place a fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures before open any new accounts.

-- Close the accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Use the ID Theft Affidavit when disputing new unauthorized accounts.

-- File your complaint with the FTC. You may print a copy of your complaint to provide important standardized information for your police report.

-- File a report with your local police or police in the community where the identity theft took place. Give the police a copy of your FTC ID Theft complaint form. Get a copy of the police report (or, at least, the police report number).

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