The City of Orlando Police Department (ORPD) in Florida busted a major identity theft crime ring earlier this month, arresting three perpetrators who allegedly stole the identities of over 1,800 people.
Local news publication The Orlando Sentinel reports that 27-year-old Xavier Stephens and his girlfriend, 38-year-old Bridget Bennifield, had been charging major expenses to stolen credit cards. Investigators linked the pair to Chrystie Hall, a 12-year employee of Preferred Guest Resorts, who had been stealing the personal information of her customers and then selling it off to criminals like Stephens and Bennifield. According to the news source, the crime ring had been operating since last December, accounting for approximately 1,855 stolen identities and a loss of $927,000 to those victims.
ORPD Sgt. Rhonda Huckelbery elaborated on Hall’s role, telling the Sentinel that Hall’s job was to enter in customer data as part of creating the reservation, and then shred the information. Instead, she kept the information for herself and sold it off to other identity thieves like Stephens and Bennifield, while also using it for her own gain. In fact, the investigation only began in the first place because one of the victims noticed that his MasterCard statement included a $4,000 charge to Orlando International Airport’s rental car service under the name of Chrystie Hall.
Working off of this tip, police investigators were able to use the rental car’s OnStar GPS to catch Bennifield and Stephens in the vehicle. The pair had a backpack and purse with them that contained 1,855 reservation documents, which included guests’ names, birthdays, credit card numbers, arrival dates and lengths of stay. The couple told police that Hall had sold them the documents in bags of 400 to 500 papers apiece, each bag for $100. They would then resell each reservation sheet for another $50 per page to other identity thieves.
“Orlando Police Department takes identity theft seriously, and we will vigorously pursue anyone who goes after our residents or tourists,” said Huckelbery in an official statement. “This is a huge mess. A lot of our victims are elderly and from out of state.”
For now, officials are urging anyone who has done business with Preferred Guest Resorts to contact their bank and report any instances of fraud to police. In the meantime, Hall, Stephens and Bennifield are being charged with grand theft auto and trafficking counterfeit credit cards, though more charges are expected.
Stories like these are another unfortunate reminder of how ID theft and fraud can creep up seemingly anywhere, from any circumstances. Even the actions of just a few criminals can negatively impact the credit histories and finances of hundreds of unsuspecting people. And while it’s commendable that police were able to put a stop to this crime ring, it’s only after nearly 2,000 people had their identities stolen.
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