Articles Posted in Identity Theft

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Two ex-NFL football players and a former high school football star were arrested in an undercover operation set up by FBI agents Monday for allegedly cashing dozens of fraudulently obtained tax-refund checks and seeking a loan, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.

FBI agents apparently set up a check-cashing store “front” in Miami as a response to the escalating number of reported identity-theft crimes in South Florida and nationwide. The FBI claims the bust was designed to prevent an alleged identify-theft and tax-refund scheme.

The men arrested include: William Joseph who was drafted in the first round by the New York Giants in 2003 and last played with the Oakland Raiders in 2010, Michael Bennet who also was drafted in the first round by the Minnesota Vikings in 2001 and finished his career with the Raiders in 2011 and Louis Gachelin, a Miami Jackson High and Syracuse University defensive lineman who signed as a free agent with the New England Patriots in 2004, but failed to make the final roster.

The former football players, Joseph, 32, of Miramar, Gachelin, 31, of Miramar, and Bennett, 33, of Tampa were granted bonds Tuesday. Arraignments are apparently scheduled for May 15.

The sting operation yielded five other arrests Monday as well.

Joseph, Gachelin and those five defendants were charged with cashing a total of about $500,000
in fraudulently obtained tax-refund checks, forging signatures on the checks and unlawfully using identification documents such as a driver’s license.

As part of the undercover sting, the FBI apparently charged 35 percent to 45 percent in fees to cash their checks with the bureau’s own funds.

Bennet allegedly tried to obtain a $200,000 loan on April 18 from the check-cashing store front using a UBS financial statement falsely showing that he had $9 million in collateral for the loan. He was charged with wire fraud.

The FBI claims fraudulently obtained tax refunds are costing the government $5 billion or more.

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, people filing false tax returns have abused a hole in the IRS electronic filing system.

It appears that the IRS does not actually match tax returns to the W-2 income forms that employers file until several months after the filing season ends on April 15. Employers file returns at the end of February or early March, but the agency apparently does not match them up with employees’ incomes reported on 1040 forms until sometime in June.

According to the GAO, the number of identity theft-related fraud incidents on tax returns reached 248,000 in 2010, which is around five times more than in 2008.

Federal investigations into white collar or financial crimes can arise out of nowhere. In fact, these investigations can intensify quite rapidly, sometimes even before you are ever approached by investigators. It is critical to consult with a criminal defense lawyer if you have any reason to believe that you are under investigation for a financial crime. Often there are signs that can clue you into whether or not an investigation is in progress, including behavior changes in those around you, unusual questions or suspicious activities.

White collar crimes can include:

• Tax Crimes

Identity Theft

• Embezzlement
Antitrust Crimes

• Hacking
• Forgery
Financial crimes require a strong defense, and in order to be effective you must retain a trial attorney prepared to practice in state and federal court. The Florida White Collar Crime Defense Lawyers at Whittel & Melton understand how a strong defense against financial crimes is built. We know how to identify loophole’s in the prosecutor’s case and leverage them to work in your favor.

It is important to realize that when you are charged with a crime, your future depends on early representation. Unfortunately, early mistakes cannot be undone and the prosecution will use any information they can against you.

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A volunteer firefighter with the Columbia County Fire Department was arrested on March 7 for allegedly using an agency fuel credit card to pay for more than $7,500 worth of gas for his personal vehicle and his friends’ vehicles.

The 19-year-old Lake City, Florida man was charged with grand theft and fraudulent use of a credit card.

According to the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, 181 fraudulent transactions were made using the fuel card, which was apparently reported stolen from a fire department vehicle on March 2 after a number of charges were allegedly made on the card.

Police claim they identified the volunteer firefighter as the suspect after apparently viewing surveillance footage from gas stations.

The man was held on $21,000 bond.

Florida has very specific laws set in place to protect the public against credit card fraud. A misdemeanor or felony credit card fraud offense can be charged when someone is accused of signing, taking, forging, using, obtaining, selling or buying someone else’s credit card, debit card or account information. Simply put, knowingly using a stolen, expired, altered, counterfeited, forged or revoked credit card will likely result in theft charges. It’s very important to recognize that while credit card fraud is charged as either petty or grand theft, you could also face forgery and identity theft charges. As you may or may not know, grand theft is classified in Florida as any theft totaling more than $300. It can be a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison if the total falls under $5,000, but if the theft is more than $5,000 it can be labeled a second or first-degree felony.

The Florida Credit Card Fraud Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton can help you understand the complex legal issues that arise following charges of grand theft and fraudulent use of a credit card. By initially investigating the circumstances involved, we can often uncover flaws and irregularities in the government’s case that may help protect your legal rights. State and federal agencies may pursue cases of credit card fraud, however usually these cases are prosecuted by the U.S. Secret Service. Many of these typed of theft-related charges require the prosecution to prove there was intent to commit fraud. For many accused of credit card fraud, this is their best chance at avoiding a conviction.

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Authorities in Palm Beach County filed charges against 22 individuals Wednesday, alleging they stole nearly $1 million.

“Operation Leap Fraud,” apparently one of the biggest public assistance fraud roundups ever in Palm Beach County netted suspects from across Palm Beach County Jupiter to Delray Beach, and from Pahokee to West Palm Beach on charges ranging from mortgage and insurance fraud to public assistance fraud.

According to the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office, only 15 of those charged have been arrested at this time; seven others remained at large Wednesday evening.

Authorities claim the 22 individuals racked up $967,647.37 in fraud.

Authorities did not mention how long the operation took place, but the investigation, which included the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and U.S. Department of Agriculture, apparently targeted people suspected of defrauding housing and other agencies.

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, the State Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office said more arrests will follow and there will be no tolerance for even minor cases.

One of the men arrested in the sting, allegedly only defrauded $817.14. Authorities claim the man bilked an elderly woman out of her government-issued Electronic Benefit Transfer card, leaving her without the means to buy food.

It will definitely be interesting to see how the State Attorney’s Office will prosecute these cases. The government and insurance companies do not look fondly on those that attempt to defraud various benefits meant to assist qualifying individuals with their day-to-day needs. There are many ways to defraud the government, and the Florida White Collar Crime Lawyers at Whittel & Melton can assist those facing various fraud charges, including:

• Health Insurance Fraud
Petty Theft & Grand Theft

• Organized Fraud
• Identity Theft
Insurance Fraud

• Welfare Fraud
Medicare/Medicaid Fraud

• Public Assistance Fraud
Florida public assistance fraud can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the amounts wrongfully obtained. The fraud charge can be classified as a felony if the amount of the assistance illegally gained is worth more than $200 over a 12-month period. Misdemeanor charges can be filed if the value of the assistance is less than $200. If convicted of public assistance or insurance fraud you will be required to pay back the amount of wrongfully obtained benefits and may be perpetually prohibited from receiving future benefits. You may also face jail or prison time, community service or a variety of other criminal punishments.

If you have been arrested for any public assistance fraud in Florida, it is crucial to your defense to consult with the Florida White Collar Crime Lawyers at Whittel & Melton as soon as possible. We will do everything in our power to protect your Constitutional rights. At Whittel & Melton, we can provide you with the aggressive legal representation you need for every stage of your criminal case up to and including trial.

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Federal authorities arrested and charged a 35-year-old Jacksonville, Florida man for allegedly hacking into more than 50 celebrities e-mail accounts, as well as breaking into Hollywood starlet Scarlett Johansson’s phone and leaking nude pictures of her to the Internet.

He was charged on Wednesday morning with 26 counts of accessing protected computers without authorization, identity theft, damaging protected computers without authorization, and wiretapping.

Other victims included Christina Aguilera, Mila Kunis, Simone Harouche and Renee Olstead.
His arrest was part of a crackdown on hackers who target celebrities called Operation Hackerazzi.

According to the FBI, the man used publicly available data about the celebrities to supposedly hack into their e-mail accounts. He allegedly set a secret forwarding address so that all incoming e-mails would be sent to an account he controlled.

The man is accused of hacking into Johansson’s Yahoo account in December 2010. He supposedly broke into Harouche and Augilera’s accounts at Apple’s email service a month earlier.

Nude photos of Johansson and intimate portraits of Kunis and Justin Timberlake supposedly appeared online in early September. The man is accused of offering the photos to celebrity-focused blogs. It is unknown if the man tried to sell the pictures.

The U.S. District Attorney’s office in Los Angeles wants the man transferred to L.A. for trial.

This man faces a maximum prison sentence of 121 years. Cybercrime charges like hacking and identity theft require the knowledge of technical computer skills as well as aggressive legal defense skills. Cybercrime charges should be taken very seriously as prosecutors often try and push for maximum penalties. Many charges related to hacking are made in federal court, so it is important to be vigilant in your defense.

E-mail hacking has become quite popular over the last few years because many people receive, send and store personal and private information through their e-mail accounts. According to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center, the Internet Crime Complaint Center Web site received 336,655 complaint submissions in 2009 regarding cybercrimes, a 22.3 percent increase compared to 2008 reports. It is important to understand that both state and federal laws govern computer hacking. Hacking crimes entail gaining unauthorized access to private information in order to commit Internet-related crimes such as credit or debit card fraud, identity theft, phishing, vandalism, intellectual property theft and other forms of cybercrime.

As always, early intervention is crucial in obtaining positive results. Different from crimes committed in person, online activity like Internet fraud can be viewed and tracked by other users including police. Computer and Internet crime consequences can include jail, state or federal prison, restitution, fines, probation and even potential loss of employment. The Florida White Collar Criminal Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton are available around the clock for a free consultation, so contact us today.

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