Novato ID Theft - Marin IJ Article
Novato ID Theft - Marin IJ Article
Authorities investigate elaborate counterfeit, ID theft ring Police confiscated more than $1,600 in counterfeit bills. $1 bills had been washed with chemicals and reprinted as $50 and $100 bills. Authorities are investigating an elaborate counterfeiting operation involving stolen mail from throughout Marin County, credit card numbers of more than 200 people, counterfeit cash, fake checks, printers and laptop computers. The operation came to light Aug. 27, when Novato police Officer Blake Dunbar checked up on a parolee whose name he recognized on a log as one of the guests at the Days Inn motel on Redwood Boulevard. "I checked the registry for the hotel just to see who was there," Dunbar said. "We do that from time to time." Patrick Fahy, a detective with the Northern California Computer Crimes Task Force in Napa, said Dunbar dropped in at an opportune moment. "They were right in the middle of making fraudulent checks, counterfeit money, credit cards and drivers' licenses," Fahy said. "That officer being very proactive in his job has probably saved hundreds of victims their identity theft, and I don't know how many thousands of dollars." Charges have been filed against three Marin County men in connection with suspected identity theft and counterfeiting, said Barry Borden, Marin's chief deputy district attorney. The computer crimes task force, a five-county agency with investigators from throughout the region and managed by Marin District Attorney Ed Berberian, has taken over the investigation. The stolen mail came from Mill Valley, San Rafael and Novato. "Most of those mailboxes were in rural areas with high-dollar property values," Fahy said. He said the identities of several of the Marin mail theft victims were used to make fake checks that were cashed in Sonoma County. After the August arrests, police confiscated two more computers that were in the possession of one of the suspects. One of them is suspected to have been stolen from Loma Verde Elementary School during a 2009 break-in, Fahy said. There was also mail stolen from an investment company that netted the suspects account information from more than 100 people, Fahy said. Typically, identity thieves steal mail to obtain names, bank statements, credit cards, car registrations, driver's licenses, Social Security numbers and anything else that will aid them in creating a fake identity, Fahy said. They use a computer program to print blank checks, then affix the identity theft victims' names and bank account numbers to the check. "It looks professional," he said. "It looks like a bank check." The suspects arrested in Novato had created fake drivers' licenses by matching photos of themselves with other people's names, Fahy said. He said fraudulent checks were cashed in Rohnert Park using fake drivers' licenses. During the August arrest, police confiscated $1,600 in counterfeit cash. Fahy said chemicals had been used to wash the amounts off of $1 bills and then the bills were reprinted to look like $50 and $100 bills. Police also seized an unspecified amount of an unidentified controlled substance. Fahy said the best way to prevent identity theft is to lock mailboxes, pick up new personal checks at banks, open a post office box where financial information can be sent and keep computer passwords in a secure place. "ID theft is so widespread that we have to protect ourselves," he said. William D. Charleson, 44, of Novato; John P. Hoffman, 34, of Mill Valley; and Cerina V. Lazlo, 23, of San Rafael have all been charged with the following felonies: falsifying a driver's license or identification, receiving stolen property, fraudulent acquisition of personal information of 10 or more persons and possession of a controlled substance. Charleson faces two additional felony charges: possessing credit card equipment for the purpose of counterfeiting access cards and identity theft with a prior conviction. Renee G. Perry-Charleson, 42, of Santa Venetia was charged only with possession of a controlled substance.