FORT LAUDERDALE (CBS4) – A pair of Transportation Security Officers were recognized Friday for their efforts in catching a pair of suspected identity thieves at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
TSA says their officers were working at a checkpoint last Thursday outside Terminal 3 when they noticed two men exhibiting some unusual behaviors. After the men were pulled aside for extra screening, the TSA agents say found a bunch of credit cards in other people’s names.
Detectives with the Broward Sheriff’s Office say once they were called in, detectives uncovered a trove of personal information belonging to hundreds of people. Two men — Godfrey Teekah and Phillip Collins — are charged with fraudulent use of personal identification information. BSO says Teekah and Collins admitted committing tax return fraud.
Friday afternoon the TSA agents — who did not want their faces or names revealed — received a commendation from airport Federal Security Director Tim Lewis. Lewis said the agents are trained to detect certain behaviors.
“It’s behaviors not appearance,” Lewis said about the men’s training. “They’re looking for certain giveaways that perhaps the person is trying to hide something from us.”
The agents say they can’t discuss what behavior they saw but can say it’s something they’re trained to spot when it reaches a certain threshold.
“It’s the fear of discovery when they’re coming in,” said one of the agents, a Master Behavior Detection Officer. “They’re gonna have this certain fear when they get up to the podium presenting their documentation and stuff like that.”
Agents say they are providing an extra layer of security to safeguard the public.
“We are watching as soon as you get out of the vehicle for their protection,” said the agent, also a Master Behavior Detection Officer. “And that (the public is) safe when they’re getting on that plane.”
Lewis says TSA agents are looking for behavior that could cause a threat to aircraft or the airport but in many cases agents spot behavior of other criminal activity as well.
“There’s a big correlation in criminal activity and terrorist activity and unfortunately you can’t tell the difference until you do the additional screening techniques and that’s why we do it,” Lewis told CBS 4’s Carey Codd.
TSA agents say the training is based on science.
“We’re looking for anomalous behaviors where they meet a threshold,” one of the agents said. “We just don’t go out and pick people here and there. They have to meet a threshold and then they’ll be referred for additional screening.”
BSO Detective Mitchell Gordon credited TSA agents with playing a vital role in stopping the men.
“If they didn’t see something suspicious in their behavior we wouldn’t have never apprehended these people and they would have been up in Baltimore compromising hundreds of people’s information,” Gordon told CBS 4’s Carey Codd.
Gordon says the men told investigators they had all the info because they were doing people’s taxes.
“I don’t think this is how you do somebody’s taxes — carry their personal information around,” Gordon said.
Both suspects are out of jail on bond on a charge of fraudulent use of personal identification information. CBS 4 News tried to reach them at their homes but had no luck.
Gordon, who has spent 15 years in BSO’s Economic Crimes Unit, says cases like this one show how profitable our personal information is.
“It’s worth a lot of money,” he said.
Gordon says the men also had thousands in cash on them and the arrest report shows the men admitted using people’s personal info to commit tax return fraud.
“Two lap top computers were found in Teekah’s backpack, in which he advised he used to verify the fraudulent tax returns,” the arrest report states.
Gordon admits it’s challenging for people to protect themselves one hundred percent from identity theft.
“Your information is everywhere,” Gordon said. “The problem is, to pinpoint where your information was compromised is very difficult.”
Gordon says your information can be stolen from just about anywhere — doctor’s offices, hospitals even government agencies.
He says the best defense is to be careful with whom you share the information and make sure you don’t carry your certain items – like social security card or checkbook around with you.