The charges have been filed against a 30-year-old woman who previously admitted an affiliation with the crime ring, which she said included five other members. The woman apparently told investigators that she would use other people’s identifying information to create fraudulent checks, and then the other members of the group would cash the checks and they would split the resulting funds.
The fake checks were cashed between April 2013 and February 2014, and investigators say they have identified 16 victims so far. In addition to the check fraud, the woman opened eight bank accounts under the name of other individuals, using fraudulent drivers’ licenses. The affidavit states that she deposited money from the checks into these accounts, and was able to rent an apartment using another person’s credentials.
Authorities did name five other individuals in the affidavit, but there’s no word yet on whether those people have been arrested. In the meantime, the ringleader is facing charges of forgery, fraud, engaging in organized criminal activity and tampering with government records.
It’s important to stay up-to-date on these kinds of crimes, because these stories deliver valuable information about protecting your identity. Here are some concrete ways you can strengthen your id theft protection:
- Check your bank statements: Staying aware of the activity going on in your financial life is your first line of defense against id theft. If you haven’t already set up online banking, then now is the time to do it. This allows you to check the status of your accounts as frequently as you want to, and in real time. The more often you check your bank statements, the sooner you’ll be able to catch foreign activity. So call your bank immediately if you notice a charge that you don’t remember making.
- Don’t leave your documents exposed: Identity thieves sometimes steal by hacking into computers, but they also gain personal information the old-fashioned way. So make sure you lock up your private documents, even in your home. You don’t want to leave papers with your birth date, Social Security number or bank account information floating around your house. Also, remember to shred any documents you no longer need, including unsolicited credit card applications.
- Notice your mail: One of the telltale signs that you’ve become a victim of identity theft is when you start noticing a change in the mail you’re receiving. Sometimes, thieves will reroute your mail to their own address so you don’t notice that your identity has been compromised, so take note if you stop getting your bank statements or monthly mail. Another warning sign is if you start getting mail addressed to someone else, or receive a sudden influx of credit card applications. Of course, receiving debt collection notices is also a sure signal that your information has been compromised.
- Order your credit report: You are legally entitled to one free annual credit report, so call a different one of the three United States credit bureaus every four months to check your report from each of the three bureaus. Identity thieves often open lines of credit in other people’s names, so look for actions on your report that you didn’t take. If you want to keep track of your credit score, order a report from a credit fraud protection service like Identity Guard which provides credit scores based on data from Equifax®, Experian®, and TransUnion. This way, you can take note if your score changes.
Don’t let identity thieves get the best of you. Instead, stay vigilant and catch the crime as soon as it occurs.