Federal law enforcement agents have arrested dozens of people in what they claim is a rather large and bold identity theft scheme. According to federal investigators, 22 people have been arrested in a sweep that occurred today in Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas and Maryland in a massive scheme that involved using stolen identities to file false tax returns and gain access to bank accounts. Authorities believe as many as 33 others were also involved in the scheme and are being sought. Investigators believe they may be out of the country. Investigators claim that citizens of several former Soviet bloc countries traveled to San Diego where they were directed by a network of criminal groups to use stolen identities to file roughly 2,000 false tax returns. The stolen identities were also used to write over $600,000 in bad checks through Bank of America. A handful of those involved in the scheme also allegedly stole the identities of several wealthy Wells Fargo customers and used their fake identification documents to withdraw cash from bank locations in person. Law enforcement officials also claim that the scheme was involved in extensive money laundering operations in an attempt to hide the origins of the funds. In all, the scheme is said to have netted over $7 million in profits and involved the theft of thousands of identities of American citizens.
A theft scheme of this nature involves will likely involve multiple criminal charges for many of the people arrested. Stealing the identity of another person, whether for credit card access, bank account information, or health insurance coverage, is highly illegal and often punished with prison time. Bank and wire fraud are two different crimes that are often committed at the same time. Bank fraud is, as the name suggests, any fraud involving a banking institution, while wire fraud is any fraud crime that involves the use of electronic communications. Wire fraud can involve electronic communications devices of any kind including e-mail, phone, radio, television or internet access. The penalty for wire fraud alone is up to 20 years in a federal prison. Bank fraud could be punished with up to $1,000,000 in fines as well as up to 30 years in a federal prison. Being convicted of identity theft carries punishments such as expensive fines and up to 15 years in prison. Money laundering charges also carry a potential penalty of up to 20 years in a federal prison, in addition to fines and restitution.