FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) — Following a two year investigation, the Broward Sheriff’s Office says it has busted a major identity theft crime ring operating in South Florida and throughout the state.
Eight people have been indicted on federal charges and six are in custody, according to BSO Sergeant Rich Rossman, of the Organized Retail Crime Unit.
“This was their business,” Rossman told CBS 4’s Carey Codd. “I get up and go to work for the Sheriff’s Office they get up commit identity theft, credit card fraud, just fraud in general.”
The ringleader, Rossman says, is Andrew Ware. Photos provided by BSO show Ware showing off his riches — cash, jewelry — along with an assault rifle at his feet.
“They’re showing off,” Rossman said. “They mention they’ve got other weapons.”
BSO says Ware and 5 others have been arrested — David Tilus, Alex Dontfred, Latanya Ware, Latonya Ware and Sherika Rowe. Investigators say they hope to arrest two others – Jaqwayn Henry and Fritznel Etienne. Rossman says the group is accused of stealing the identities of dozens of people and using credit cards in victim’s names.
The federal indictment says the majority of the crimes took place at WalMart store. Rossman says Ware and his group had inside help.
“They had people on the inside obtaining pertinent information — Social Security numbers, dates of birth all of the various things that would be necessary to commit identity theft, credit card fraud,” Rossman said.
Rossman says the group also committed tax fraud — filing phony tax returns — and in all brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars. Late last week BSO rounded up Ware and several others on federal charges including wire fraud. Sgt. Rossman says this case began as a routine fraud case two years ago then spiraled into a lengthy investigation.
“They’re real bad guys that we’ve just taken off the streets,” Rossman said.
Investigators say identity theft groups like this one are sophisticated and take time to take down and they warn everyone to safeguard their personal information.
“If these people get a hold of a Social (Security number), and a name and date of birth they can do a lot of damage,” Rossman said.
The suspects in the case are facing significant prison time if convicted.
Rossman says that identity theft remains a huge problem. Investigators offer a few tips — like protecting your passwords, shredding important documents and making sure you secure your wireless network at home. Also, when you use a public wireless network be careful of the websites you visit and don’t reveal any private information.