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Identity Thieves and Scavengers Find a Gold Mine at the Defunct
 Best Western Greenwood Inn & Suites in Beaverton, Oregon

By John Snell, The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Aug. 9, 205 - -BEAVERTON -- The Best Western Greenwood Inn & Suites used to be an invitation to the weary business traveler. It folded in December, and police fear it now offers an invitation to a different crowd.

Members of the methamphetamine and identity-theft community have been caught taking credit card receipts, financial records and completed job applications from the defunct business. Police say the papers are being used to fraudulently obtain credit.

"It's a gold mine of financial information that was left," said Officer Paul Wandell, Beaverton police spokesman.

So far, only one victim of fraud has been tied to the Greenwood Inn records. But police say there could be many more. Only time -- measured not in days or months, but in billing cycles -- will tell.

"Pretty much the only recommendation we can make is for everybody to monitor their credit card statements," Wandell said. "That's going to be your first indicator that whatever you had was compromised."

A landmark off busy Oregon 217 at Southwest Allen Boulevard, the Greenwood Inn closed Dec. 31. Workers are tearing down the building, which could lead to redevelopment of the property.

In May, firefighters cut holes in the building as part of a week of training drills.

In addition to its role as one of the busier business-class hotels on Washington County's bustling east side, the 217-room hotel was used for business meetings, weddings and other events.

Representatives of the owner of the Greenwood Inn site, Howard Dietrich Jr., didn't respond to requests for comment on this story.

Police first learned the defunct hotel was being plundered by identity thieves July 21 when they arrested Richard Lee Palm Jr., 28, on charges of identity theft and second-degree manufacture and possession of methamphetamine.

When Palm was arrested, police found 30 credit card receipts from the Greenwood Inn. Every one contained names, addresses and credit account numbers.

Two days later, police arrested Christopher Earl Oliver, 36. He was caught with photocopies of credit cards, drivers' licenses and other billing information with names and addresses of Greenwood Inn customers, a police report says.

Oliver was held on 42 counts of identity theft, all stemming from material taken from the Greenwood Inn.

"There were canceled checks, credit card receipts, job applications," Wandell said.

In all, police found 29 boxes of material left unattended at the hotel.

"Everything dates from 2002 to 2004," Wandell said.

In all, there were records from thousands of people. Wandell said the word that unguarded financial records were still in the building more than likely spread through the drug community before last month's arrests.

On Friday, three people who had been living at the abandoned building as on-site caretakers were arrested by Beaverton police on charges of trespassing, conspiracy and second-degree theft.

Wandell said Debra Birrer, 45, Donald Laycock Jr., 47, and Jack Horton, 46, were arrested at the Greenwood Inn. Their pickup was loaded with metal that had been taken from the building.

Tillamook County is the only victim identified so far from the Greenwood Inn: one of the county's corporate credit accounts was used to buy a video camera at Sears' Internet site.

"The number of other victims is a big unknown," Wandell said, adding that thefts would most likely be discovered when people start getting bills for things they never charged.

"We arrested these guys in July," Wandell said. "Credit card statements may not have even hit mailboxes yet."


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Copyright (c) 2005, The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.

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