NORTH MIAMI BEACH (CBS4) – Police in North Miami Beach say they’ve arrested the leader of a large identity theft ring.
Authorities say Ralph Celestin, 25, is the leader of a gang called Money Avenue, a fraud based gang that’s been under investigation in North Miami Beach for the past several years.
While serving a search warrant Friday morning at an Aventura apartment, police say they seized stacks of cash, two guns, piles of Wal-Mart prepaid money cards and notebooks filled with thousands of names, social security numbers and dates of birth.
Police say they’re the names of potential identity theft victims.
Detective Craig Catlin said police found, “almost 3,000 names socials and dates of birth. There’s indication next to them that they’d done tax returns with dollar amounts.”
Here’s how police say the scam worked; criminals would target wealthy victims getting access to their social security numbers and dates of birth. Then, police say the suspects file tax returns online using that information.
The IRS, unaware the tax return was phony, would deposit money into an account linked to a prepaid Wal-Mart money card. Police say Celestine and his accomplices would purchase the pre-paid cards in bulk.
Financial fraud expert Luis Rivera of MRW Consulting says criminals use money cards instead of depositing money in bank accounts to protect their own identity.
“If you put it on a card you spend the money you dispose of the card,” said Rivera. “It’s almost like the perfect crime.”
Police say some of the names and social security numbers may have come from medical records. Detectives are looking into that as part of the ongoing investigation. They’re also trying to identify all of the victims. They say some victims may not realize their information was used.