The investigation began in March with the discovery that 49 Aventura police officers and six other people connected to the city government were victims of identity theft and tax fraud in the 2011 income tax season, authorities said.
On Tuesday, the inquiry led to six South Florida residents being indicted on charges they operated a major identity theft ring out of a Pompano Beach home on the 1200 block of Northeast Fifth Street.
The four men and two women are accused of using the money to do everything from make child support payments online to take vacations in Orlando and rent BMWs at Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Miami airports.
Brothers Jeffery McCarthy and Christopher McCarthy, their girlfriends Marysol Hernandez and Teresa Calderon, cousin Floyd Harper, and friend Brian Gamble, all in their 20s and 30s, face multiple counts of fraud and identity theft in federal court. They all deny the allegations.
The fraud involved filing unauthorized income tax returns on behalf of victims and opening lines of credit, investigators said (full story here)
What is Identity Theft or Identity Fraud?
Identity theft or identity fraud (true name fraud) is the criminal act of taking a victim’s identity for the purpose of obtaining credit, credit cards from banks and/or retailers, stealing money from the victim’s existing accounts, applying for loans in the victim’s name, establishing accounts with utility companies, leasing automobiles and residences, filing bankruptcy, and/or even obtaining employment.
Identity thieves often steal thousands of dollars from unsuspecting victims, in the victim’s own name, without the victim knowing about the fraud for months or sometimes years. Recently, identity thieves have used unsuspecting victim’s identities to commit crimes ranging from traffic infractions to felonies.
How Does Identity Theft Occur?
All that is needed is a little information, such as your social security number, birth date, address, phone number, or any other information which can be discovered.
Armed with this identifying information, and possibly a false driver’s license with the identity thief’s picture in place of yours, the identity thief can apply in person for instant credit, or through the mail by posing as you.
Often, an identity thief will provide their own address, (claiming to have moved) in an effort to prolong the fraud. Negligent credit grantors, in their rush to issue credit, do not verify information or addresses. As such, once the imposter opens the first account, they can use this new account, along with the other identifying information, to bolster their credibility and obtain even more credit in your name.
These criminal actions result in a proliferation of the fraud, and the thief is well on his/her way to getting rich and ruining your credit and good name.
Where Does the Information About You Come From?
Many places- your doctor, accountant, lawyer, dentist, school, place of employment, health insurance carrier, and many others have your identifying information.
If some criminally minded person is employed at one of these places, (or is just visiting) and decides to use or steal this information to assume your identity, you would probably not find out about it until after the damage had been done. Further, if this information is not disposed of with a shredder, a “dumpster-diver” could retrieve the information, and assume your identity without ever having to enter any of the above-mentioned places.
You should also be aware that you do not need to lose your wallet or have anything tangible stolen, in order for someone to steal your identity.
By simply failing to shred your confidential information, utility bills, credit card slips and other documents, it is easy for an identity thief to “dumpster dive” your garbage, and retrieve your most personal identifying information.
In addition, if an identity thief were to obtain your credit report illegally, they would have all the information necessary to become you.
You should also know that much of your identifying information is readily available on the Internet, or even at your local courthouse, where it is accessible by the filing of a public records request (source).
Tips to Help You Avoid Identity Theft:
- Do not throw away ATM receipts, credit statements, credit cards, or bank statements without first shredding them.
- Never give out personal information online simply because someone asks for it.
- Never give your credit card number over the telephone unless you initiated the call.
- Reconcile your bank account monthly and notify your bank of discrepancies immediately.
- Keep a list of telephone numbers to call to report the loss or theft of your wallet, credit cards, etc.
- Report unauthorized financial transactions to your bank, credit card company, and the police as soon as you detect them.
- Review a copy of your credit report at least once each year. Notify the credit bureau in writing of any questionable entries and follow through until they are explained or removed.
- If your identity has been assumed, ask the credit bureau to print a statement to that effect in your credit report.
- If you know of anyone who receives mail from credit card companies or banks in the names of others, report it to local or federal law enforcement authorities.
Tips provided by SecureFlorida.
West Palm Beach Fraud Defense Attorney
Depending upon the amount taken, fraud charges can have very serious consequences in Florida:
Theft of $300 to $20,000 by fraud is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine
Theft of $20,000 to $100,000 by fraud is a second-degree felony, punishable up to 15 years in jail and a $10,000 fine.
Theft of more than $100,000 by fraud is a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 30 years and a $10,000 fine.
At the law firm of Andrew D. Stine, P.A., in West Palm Beach, we have extensive experience representing people charged with fraud crimes, including mortgage fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, securities fraud, tax evasion, insider trading, theft by fraudulent means, writing bad checks, and organized schemes to defraud.
In Florida, most fraud changes involve the Economic Crimes Division (ECD) putting together a great amount of evidence for presentation before a grand jury. The best way to resolve these cases is for your lawyer to have a good working relationship with the prosecutor and to try to avoid any serious consequences by paying restitution. In Florida, restitution outweighs incarceration, so if your lawyer can persuade the victim to drop charges in favor of receiving their money back, you can usually avoid a conviction.
If you did not commit the fraud crime, we can prepare an aggressive defense and force the state to prove its case. In many cases, that can be a difficult thing for the state to do.
Free consultation 24/7: Call West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyer Andrew D. Stine, P.A. at (561) 832-1170. Se habla español.