Posted on October 14th, 2013 No comments
A Miami cop who stole 1,000 identities from a police database to score fraudulent income-tax refunds was found guilty in federal court Thursday.
Malinsky Bazile, 28, collected about $140,000 from the scam in 2011-12.
Bazile, who joined the Miami Police Department in 2008, was immediately taken into custody while he awaits sentencing.
Bazile’s prosecution marked the first time a South Florida law enforcement officer was convicted of identity theft and tax-refund fraud, a crime that has spread across the state.
The 12-person federal jury in Fort Lauderdale took less than one hour to convict Bazile, whose trial started Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenbaum.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Berger prosecuted Bazile’s case, which was investigated by an FBI anti-corruption task force, including Miami internal affairs detectives.
Before his arrest earlier this year, Bazile had helped the FBI target another Miami cop, Vital Frederick, suspected of committing the same type of crime. Frederick, 27, was standing trial this week in Miami federal court, with closing arguments on Thursday. A jury will begin deliberations Friday.
Authorities Accuse South Florida Man of Identity Theft, Years After He Won $2 Million Verdict Against City of SweetwaterPosted on October 14th, 2013 No comments
Federal agents have hauled in 44 people who the government claims participated in a massive identity theft and tax fraud scheme across South Florida. One of them has been in the public eye before – Peter Michael Daniel.
He won millions of dollars in a judgment against the city of Sweetwater and on Friday his parents told NBC 6 Daniel hasn’t done anything wrong.
Daniel won a $2 million dollar verdict against the City of Sweetwater. As a 19-year-old a decade ago he claimed police, who thought he had stolen another cop’s jet ski, took him to a cell and beat him so badly he suffered head trauma, a lacerated liver and spleen, and needed emergency surgery.
Now federal agents and prosecutors have charged Daniel, 29, with identity theft. The indictment says he committed device fraud for his unauthorized possession of at least 15 other people’s Social Security numbers.
“There’s a lot of allegations. He will have his day in court,” his mother Lourdes Lima said.
Daniel’s parents said he was inside their west Miami-Dade home today, but couldn’t talk about the allegations. They said their son is completely innocent and believed the information he had was part of a legitimate business.
“He’s not in jail. He’s not in jail. He’s OK, he’s fine and he will be fine,” his stepfather Juan Lima said. “As soon as we get everything straightened out he will be fine.”
The parents also said anything Daniel had was given to him by someone close to them they trusted.
Daniel told the magistrate judge at his bond hearing that he was out of funds and a public defender was initially assigned to him.
His mother called NBC 6 after a crew left their home to say that separate charges the county brought against him were dropped last year and they ultimately expect the same in federal court.
The U.S. attorney’s office said that the ID theft and tax fraud ring was widespread and did significant damage.
Posted on May 3rd, 2013 No comments
At some point between the time she disembarked from a recent cruise in Miami and returned to Carmel, Ind., someone decided to go shopping with Jody Tzucker’s credit card. “They bought cigars and other odd things in Miami,” says Tzucker, a retired manager for a nonprofit association.
She suspects that the criminals may have skimmed her Visa account information while she was filling up her gas tank in South Florida. Or maybe not. Nowadays, hackers don’t even have to see your credit card to access the information on it. They can scan it from a safe distance.
One of the latest threats against travelers is invisible and silent: wireless attacks that siphon your credit card number, personal information and passwords. Anything with a radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip, including your passport or a credit card, can be read from afar. Thieves can also mine valuable data from your smartphone when it automatically logs on to a WiFi network.
Fortunately, there are a few simple ways to thwart these wireless assaults, including new luggage products and common-sense steps that protect your devices and credit cards.
As it turned out, Tzucker’s card didn’t have an RFID chip. And she was lucky. Before the cigar-loving thieves could finish their shopping excursion, her bank’s fraud detection algorithm tagged her purchases as suspicious, disabled her account and refunded the fraudulent transactions. And that may be one of the most effective solutions — having a bank that can stop fraud quickly and cover any losses. After the incident, Tzucker also switched to using a prepaid debit card when she traveled, which contains no personal information.
But others haven’t been so fortunate. Nearly half of all travelers use their smartphones to access the Internet when they’re on vacation, according to a recent survey by security firm Kaspersky Lab. One-third of phone users store their passwords to online accounts, including bank and social networks, on their devices. While any phone can be a target, the most vulnerable wireless devices run on the Android operating system, according to Kaspersky.
The luggage industry offers one possible solution: new backpacks and suitcases with protective linings to shield your IDs and wireless devices.
This month, luggage manufacturer Briggs & Riley, based in Hauppage, N.Y., will add RFID-blocking pockets to its new @work briefcase and bag collection. The models offer two pockets with electromagnetic shielding, one for IDs and passports, the other for a smartphone or a tablet computer. The black ballistic nylon cases, priced from $129 to $479, are designed to appeal to privacy-conscious business travelers.
Richard Krulik, Briggs & Riley’s chief executive, says that his company is constantly adapting to the concerns and demands of travelers, something he refers to as “reality engineering.”
“Increasingly, travelers are coming to rely on their luggage to keep more than their belongings safe,” he adds. “They need protection for their personal information and data.”
Escape the Wolf, a travel security company based in Virginia Beach, is also introducing a product this month, aimed at leisure travelers and called the Zero Trace Two-Day Backpack. It offers a large interior compartment to store any electronics you want to protect from prying eyes or scans. The $199 backpack, which will be part of Escape the Wolf’s line of security-enhancing luggage, is minimalist on the outside but sophisticated on the inside for a reason, says Clinton Emerson, the company’s chief executive.
“Fancy gets you mugged,” he says. “Fancy gets stolen.”
A closer look at this technology suggests that the best strategy for preventing data theft when you’re on the road is a combination of electromagnetic shields and common sense. A series of tests conducted in 2011 by Consumer Reports concludes that products with electronic shielding can partially block the signal from a chip in a credit card.
Only credit cards with RFID chips — so-called “chip and signature” or “chip and PIN” cards — are vulnerable to scans. Most credit cards in the United States don’t use this technology at present, although it’s gaining some traction, particularly among corporate travelers.
Wireless devices left in the pouches would run down the battery searching for a signal, and security experts say that an equally effective way to prevent someone from accessing them is to power down the device and remove the battery. However, that’s not an option with the most popular wireless devices, such as Apple’s iPhone and iPad, which don’t have an easily removable battery.
Experts say that making sure the WiFi settings on your smartphone or tablet are set so that they don’t automatically connect to any wireless network, and not storing passwords or credit card numbers on your phone, is an equally effective way to make sure hackers don’t access your data and steal your identity, or your money.
But luggage with electromagnetic shielding can’t hurt, either. It makes your information a less desirable mark. Hackers and ID thieves prefer easy targets, which come from unprotected wireless devices and credit cards emitting a clear, easy-to-intercept signal.
In a world of invisible and often unknown security threats, the new bags may make travelers such as Linda Snow feel a little safer. Snow, an actress who lives in Denver, says that many of her friends have had their identities stolen, some of them while traveling. “I’m more careful with how I handle my ID and phone,” she says. Now she’s thinking of upgrading her luggage, too.
Posted on March 18th, 2013 No comments
The Internal Revenue Service has deputized law enforcement officers from 10 Tampa Bay-area agencies as a part of the Tampa Bay Identity Theft Alliance, which investigates allegations under federal bank and money laundering laws and exercise authority outside their current jurisdictions as local officers.
The new Special IRS Criminal Investigators were sworn in at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Tampa Bay Regional Operations Center.
The Tampa Bay Identity Theft Alliance was formed in July 2012 to combat the high number of identity theft crimes in Tampa and surrounding areas. The goal of this specialized law enforcement team is to investigate ID theft crimes and pinpoint vulnerabilities in personal and business transactions.
Members of the Tampa Bay Identity Theft Alliance who were sworn in today include agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, officers from Tampa, Clearwater, Largo, Brooksville and St. Petersburg Police Departments and deputies from Hillsborough, Polk, Manatee and Hernando County Sheriffs Offices.
Other partners include the IRS, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Secret Service, Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General, United States Postal Inspection Service, Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General, Pasco County Sheriffs Office and Plant City Police Department. Outreach partners are Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay, CBS Outdoor Advertisers, HART LINE, Direct Mailers and the Tampa Bay Chapter of the Association for Certified Fraud Examiners.
Five simple steps to protect your identity:
- 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 or social security number over the telephone unless you initiated the call.
- Reconcile your bank account monthly and notify your bank of discrepancies immediately.
- Review a copy of your credit report at least once each year.
What to do if you are a victim:
- Flag your credit reports. Contact the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion).
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338).
- File a report with the local police.
- If you received a notice from the IRS, call the number on that notice.
- Fill out the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit, Form 14039.
- Call IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit 1-800-908-4490 if you think you are at risk due to a lost/stolen purse or wallet.
Posted on November 26th, 2012 No comments
South Florida has the highest rate of identity theft of any metro area in the nation so consumers here need to especially protect themselves from identity theft while shopping during the holidays.
Here are seven tips from the website IDentity Theft 911 at www.idt911.com:
- Shop on secure sites that have “https” in the address bar and a yellow padlock logo to the right of the Web browser address bar. Double-click on the lock to see a digital certificate of the website. Review these certificates on unfamiliar sites.
- Make sure you enter correct URLs. “Hackers often buy misspelled domains to trick people into entering personal information,” according to the website.
- Never enter your Social Security number or passwords to e-mail and bank accounts as part of the buying process with online retailers. South Floridians have especially been stung with thieves stealing their Social Security numbers to file fake federal tax refunds before the honest taxpayers can. Earlier this fall, the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration reported that Florida has the highest rate of stolen identity tax refund fraud in the nation.
- Use different passwords for online retailers, personal e-mail and banks accounts. If hackers crack one password, then they won’t have access to others. Also, don’t save personal information on an online retail website. Retailers will offer convenience and better deals, but many customer databases are breached by identity thieves. It’s not worth the risk.
- Beware of phishing e-mail scams that include website links advertising “incredible deals.” Don’t click on them. Type the link directly into your browser.
- Use credit cards online, not debit cards, to pay for merchandise. Try to use credit cards with low limits to minimize the damage if a thief takes over the account. Or, use a “one-time” credit card number from payment processors such as PayPal. Also, don’t link a bank account to an online pay service such as PayPal. Hackers could break into the PayPal account and drain money from the linked bank account.
- Install and update antivirus, anti-malware and firewall software on your computer. Don’t forget to update its operating system and Internet browser with the latest security patches.
Posted on October 23rd, 2012 No comments
A Bulgarian man and a Florida woman will spend a decade in jail after identity theft and bank fraud which cost Bank of America at least $862,478.
Antonio Velikov, 41, and Mariana Biserova Pashova, 35, were both sentenced to 10 years and one month in prison. They pleaded guilty in June to bank fraud, possession of more than 300 counterfeit credit or debit cards and aggravated identity theft.
The duo were arrested by Hoover police in May 2011 as they attempted to install a skimmer on a Regions Bank ATM. A skimmer is a camouflaged device that can read and store information from the cards.
“This pair was involved in ATM skimming operations in six Southern states, including Alabama,” U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance said in a statement.
When caught, more than $50,000 in cash, a magnetic-stripe encoder, a camouflaged skimmer, laptops, computer accessories and 340 counterfeit cards were recovered from their room.
Posted on October 21st, 2012 No comments
Florida cops are looking for an alleged ID theif who dresses like a lady in order to use stolen credit cars swiped from elderly residents of assisted living facilities.
Meko Hartfield, a 29-year-old Florida man, took identity theft to the next level by swiping an elderly woman’s credit cards and ID, then dressing as a woman while using her identity, cops said.
A resident of the Winter Park Towers Assisted Living Facility had her Social Security card, driver’s license and credit cards stolen in September, according to a Winter Park Police Department press release.
The credit cards were used at stores in Orlando and Altamonte Springs.
Cops were looking for a female suspect after security cameras at a Target where the cards were used captured an image of a woman wearing nurse’s scrubs.
They eventually realized the woman they were looking for was actually a man: 29-year-old Meko Hartfield.
Hartfield poses as an employee at assisted living facilities in order to rob residents, cops said.
He is suspected of a similar crime at a facility in Oviedo, and he isn’t a health care worker at all, as far as police know.
Cops are still looking for Hartfield, as well as an unidentified male accomplice who was caught on camera at Target with him.
Posted on October 10th, 2012 No comments
Federal agents busted dozens of South Florida suspects charged with identity theft and income tax fraud in a major assault on the epidemic crime.
Federal authorities stepped up their assault on the viral-like crime of identity theft and tax fraud, arresting dozens of South Florida suspects — including a Miami Gardens man facing a murder trial — on charges of filing fake returns totaling millions of dollars.
Federal prosecutors in Miami plan to unveil charges against more than 40 defendants accused of stealing the personal information of other people and using it to file fraudulent tax-refund claims with the Internal Revenue Service. U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer plans to hold a news conference at 3 p.m. Wednesday to address the new charges.
Among those arrested and charged early Wednesday: Lineten “Link” Belizaire. In August, Belizaire was charged with the Lauderdale Lakes killings of two women and a baby.
Belizaire, 21, of Miami Gardens, pleaded not guilty in the shooting deaths of Octavia Barnett, 21; Barnett’s roommate, Natasha Plummer, 25; and Plummer’s 6-month-old boy, Carlton Stringer Jr..
Belizaire, who was out on bond awaiting trial in Broward, was taken into custody to face ID theft and tax fraud charges in federal court.
Wednesday’s takedown by a new South Florida task force involving the IRS, FBI and other law enforcement agencies follows a Justice Department’s Oct. 1 edict that gave authorities greater leeway to pursue tax-fraud offenders who swipe other people’s identities to fleece the federal government.
“This takedown is big and it’s only going to get bigger,” Jose “Tony” Gonzalez, special agent in charge of the IRS’ criminal investigations unit, told The Miami Herald. “Our job is to protect the integrity of the tax system and honest taxpayers.”
The problem is so pervasive that an inspector general for the Treasury Department recently issued a report that found the IRS paid out more than $5.2 billion in tax refunds to fraudsters who filed about 1.5 million fake returns using the stolen identities of other people.
Among major U.S. cities with the most fraud-related tax filings: Tampa (88,724 returns, with refunds of $468,382,079); Miami (74,496 returns, with refunds of $280,509,449) and Atlanta (29,787 returns, with refunds of $77,113,392).
Over the past year, dozens of suspects charged with theft of IDs and government funds have been convicted in Miami.
The most high-profile case: In late August, William Joseph, a former University of Miami defensive tackle who played in the NFL for much of the past decade, pleaded guilty to tax-related fraud charges in federal court.
Joseph and other defendants — including a former Oakland Raider teammate, running back Michael Bennett — were convicted of either cashing dozens of fraudulently obtained tax-refund checks in other peoples’ names or seeking a loan with fake collateral. Their take totaled hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to court records.
Joseph, 32, of Miramar, cut a plea deal in hopes of reducing his potential sentence. He pleaded guilty to theft of government money and aggravated identity theft, the latter of which carries a mandatory two-year prison sentence. He admitted cashing a $10,088.27 Treasury Department refund check in the name of a person with the initials “I.P.” at a check-cashing store in North Miami in April, according to his plea agreement.
Unbeknownst to him, the store was a front for an FBI undercover operation.
Joseph agreed to cooperate in the ongoing investigation into tax-related fraud, according to the plea deal signed by him, his lawyer and prosecutor Michael Berger. That assistance could be a factor at his sentencing Nov. 9 before U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams.
Earlier this year, FBI agents faked out the two ex-NFL football players and a former local high school star by setting up the check-cashing “front” in North Miami. The undercover operation, using audio and video recordings, sacked:
• Joseph, who was drafted in the first round by the New York Giants in 2003 and last played with the Oakland Raiders in 2010.
Bennett, a University of Wisconsin halfback who was drafted in the first round by the Minnesota Vikings in 2001 and concluded his career with the Raiders in 2011. Bennett, 33, of Tampa, pleaded guilty to a wire fraud charge in August.
• Louis Gachelin, a Miami Jackson High and Syracuse University defensive lineman who signed as a free agent with the New England Patriots in 2004. Gachelin never made the final roster. In July, Gachelin, 31, of Miramar, pleaded guilty to theft of government money and aggravated ID theft.
Here’s the root of the problem: Scammers filing fabricated tax returns have exploited a hole in the IRS electronic filing system, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
The federal watchdog agency found that the Internal Revenue Service does not match tax returns to the W-2 income forms that employers file until months after the filing season ends on April 15. Employers file them in late February or early March; the IRS does not match them up with employees’ incomes reported on 1040 forms until June.
That’s way too late to catch identity thieves who file false returns in other people’s names early in the year and have already received and cashed the refund check.
Posted on September 27th, 2012 No comments
Three people face charges in connection with identity thefts stealing the identities of several current and former employees of Apollo Elementary School in Titusville.
Brevard County Sheriff’s Deputies said Richard Harvill, Michelle Walker, and Alison Greenlay were using the victims’ stolen identities to purchase merchandise at local stores, according to a release. Agent Jacqueline Hearon said the trio got about $30,000 total from nine victims.
The release named Richard Harvill as a career criminal. He has previous convictions dating back to 1987 that include aggravated battery, escape, battery on a law enforcement officer, forgery, grand theft, fraudulent use of personal identification, and trafficking in stolen property.
Harvill was most recently released from state prison in 2010, according to the Department of Corrections website.
Hearon said they suspect a relative of one of the suspects worked at Apollo and helped the trio obtain information on the victims.
Greenlay was arrested in Brevard County. Harvill and Walker are being held in North Carolina on charges of operating a meth lab, according to the release. They will be returned to Brevard to face the identity theft charges.
Harvill’s charges include: 34 counts of criminal use of personal identification, 2 counts of fraudulent use of credit cards, 2 counts of grand theft and 1 count of forgery.
Walker’s charges include: 33 counts of criminal use of personal identification, 8 counts of fraudulent use of a credit card, 7 counts of scheme to defraud, 1 count of forgery and 1 count of grand theft.
Greenlay’s charges include: fraudulent use of a credit card, forgery, grand theft and violation of probation.
The Sheriff’s Office is asking that anyone who may have information concerning this investigation contact Agent Jacqueline Hearon at (321) 264-5210 or CRIMELINE at 1-800-423-TIPS (8477). All calls to CRIMELINE are confidential and callers can remain anonymous.
Contact Ford at [email protected] or 321-242-3601
Posted on September 6th, 2012 2 comments
A Florida lawyer living in Colorado has had her personal information compromised, potentially setting her up for identity theft or impersonation.
Laurie Morris unwittingly provided the miscreants her sensitive information when she submitted paperwork for a background check to what she thought was a California law firm.
It wasn’t. Now she is worried about what will happen next.
Morris recently moved from Tampa to Denver and since she is not licensed in Colorado, she has been working with a placement agency to secure various contract positions.
After completing an eight-month assignment she got through the agency, Morris was contacted again in July regarding a job with “Isaacson Goldberg Warner,” purportedly a California firm that had a medical malpractice case set for trial in Denver in October and needed some extra help.
“They supposedly reviewed my resume, approved me, and sent me some paperwork to fill out for a background check,” said Morris, adding she was “hired” along with another lawyer and a paralegal and told when and where to report to get started on the case.
When that day came, the “California lawyers” never showed and failed to respond to calls from the placement agency.
After contacting the State Bar of California and the property managers of the building supposedly housing the firm, it became clear “Isaacson Goldberg Warner” didn’t exist.
“All we can guess is this is some sort of scam to secure personal information, because they did not get anything else from us,” Morris said. “But they do have my Social Security number, my driver’s license number, my date of birth, my address, and they know I’m an attorney — all the identity theft information.”
As of yet, there have been no known repercussions. Morris said she has taken all the steps she can think of to minimize any damage — such as contacting her banks, credit reporting agencies, and The Florida Bar to alert them about what happened.
Morris said the placement agency also had sensitive information stolen because the fake firm asked the agency to run payroll for the contract lawyers through its account, as opposed to the “firm” paying the lawyers directly.
“So they now have her banking information, so she is also compromised both professionally and personally,” Morris said.
Morris and the placement agency alerted local law enforcement and the FBI, which has turned the case over to its cybercrimes unit.
“It looks like it was all Internet based,” said Morris, adding the Isaacson Goldberg Warner website’s IP server address has been traced back to Bermuda.
Morris said the scammers were pretty sophisticated, and the ruse included Isaacson Goldberg Warner website and found much of the verbiage on the site was pirated from a Washington, D.C., based international law firm’s website.
Morris now worries about what the fraudster may do with her personal information: sell it to others; open credit card accounts in her name; obtain loans; get a driver’s license or official ID card issued in her name but with someone else’s picture; or even hold themselves out as her and practice law. What terrifies her most is the prospect of the fraudsters perpetrating more scams using her identity, and having Bar complaints wrongfully filed against her.
Unfortunately, Morris said, she did not have a lot of information about the firm she was applying to work for before the scam got too far along, which is typically the way placement agencies work.
“At the beginning it is double blind; they don’t tell me who their client is and they redact my information when they submit my resume,” Morris said. “Until it is finalized, you don’t really know who you are working for.”
Going forward, Morris said if a potential employer wants to do a background check, she will demand to know why, since she is already a licensed professional. If the employer insists, she will ask to be provided with the name of the company that will run the background check “and I’ll communicate with them directly.”
Morris said her placement agency now plans to run its own background checks and not let potential employers perform them anymore.
“This is a fairly elaborate scam, which seems to be getting more common,” said Elizabeth Tarbert, the Bar’s ethics counsel. “Unfortunately, it is a lot easier with the Internet — and without real cost but time — to create credentials, such as a fake website, or in the case of another scam, the fake bank check.”
Tarbert said it is good advice to try to get as much information as possible about potential employers before giving them sensitive personal information.
The Federal Trade Commission estimates that as many as nine million Americans have their identities stolen each year.
To learn more about ID theft or what to do if you think or know your identity has been stolen, visit www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft