BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — BOXFORD — When a resident told police last month he faced $7,100 in charges for a credit card he never applied for, his report could have gone down as one of the many unsolved cases of identity theft and credit card fraud on the North Shore.
Thanks to the dogged efforts of a Boxford police officer, who cracked the case through the thief’s unique computer IP address, a New Hampshire man is in jail facing fraud charges. And he could face charges for cases elsewhere, police said.
On April 1 at 6:30 a.m., Jeffrey Sek, 58, who was living at 5 Kimball Ave., Plaistow, N.H., was arrested on a warrant in New Hampshire by Boxford and Plaistow police, including a K-9 unit.
Police charged Sek with identity fraud, falsely obtaining a credit card, fraudulent use of a credit card and larceny by credit card, said Boxford Lt. Robert Hazelwood, who singled out the efforts of Patrolman Joseph Borodawka for Sek’s arrest.
“This has been very beneficial,” Hazelwood said of Borodawka’s work. “We don’t know how many victims, yet.”
Sek waived extradition, Hazelwood said, and he was arraigned Wednesday in Haverhill District Court. Judge Patricia Dowling ordered Sek held on $10,000 cash bail. Hazelwood had asked for $7,500.
It all started on March 20, when a resident came to the Boxford Police Station with a monthly statement from Capital One Credit that stated he owed $7,132 for a card he never opened, Hazelwood said.
Borodawka investigated, and he was able to obtain from the credit card company the unique IP address of the computer used to open the card. Comcast supplied Borodawka with the street address that corresponded with the IP address. It came back to a Kimball Avenue residence in Plaistow, where police later learned Sek was staying.
Borodawka was able to determine the credit card had been used at 40 locations in Essex and Middlesex counties. Police were able to obtain video surveillance of someone using the credit card at five of those locations, Hazelwood said. In the surveillance footage, the person using the credit card had a unique hairstyle and beard. Police could also identify a car used at these locations.
Police drove by the Plaistow address and spotted a vehicle that matched the description of the one in the video surveillance. Police were able to obtain a search warrant in New Hampshire. They also sent pictures of the suspect to an email list of detectives.
“Westford called and said, ‘gee, we had an ATM scam,’” Hazelwood said. Descriptions given in this string of ATM thefts matched the ones Boxford police gave. Hazelwood said there could be many more victims in other communities of the same scam, which involves the suspect ordering a credit card in the victim’s name, then stealing it from the victim’s mail by waiting outside the house for it to be delivered.
Often, the suspect simply withdrew the daily maximum amount of cash allowed for the card from an ATM. In the Westford case, someone withdrew $300 a day for approximately 10 days.
The investigation is still ongoing, and police are examining the contents of a laptop found in the bedroom where Sek was living. When police recovered the laptop, they also found a sheet of paper on top which turned out to be an application for a credit card with a limit of $20,000 in the name of a North Reading resident, Hazelwood said.
Police do not know how Sek allegedly obtained certain personal information, such as Social Security numbers and mother’s maiden names, used to open the cards.
When asked if Sek has a record of credit card fraud elsewhere, Hazelwood said “Florida and here.” Three of the four charges Sek faces are felonies, Hazelwood said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.