"Swift" Task Force Targets Valley's Identity Thieves
Las Vegas, Nev. - A joint law enforcement task force consisting of federal, state and local law enforcement agents and prosecutors is working to combat the rapidly-growing problem of identity theft and financial crime in the Las Vegas Valley, announced Daniel G. Bogden, United States Attorney for the District of Nevada. Formed in April 2004, the Southwestern Identity Theft and Fraud Task Force (SWIFT), comprised of representatives of the United States Secret Service, United States Postal Inspection Service, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, North Las Vegas Police Department, Henderson Police Department, United States Attorney's Office, and Clark County District Attorney's Office, will primarily investigate identity fraud and complex fraud cases involving criminal organizations and crimes committed utilizing emerging technology in southern Nevada.
A 2003 survey sponsored by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimated almost 10 million Americans were victims of identity theft in the past year, and 27 million were victims in the past five years. Nevada residents are unfortunately the victims of such crimes more than most other states. The January 2004 FTC report on national and state trends in fraud and identity theft in 2003, ranks Nevada second in the nation for reported identity theft victims per capita, with Arizona being first and California third. The most common type of identity theft reported by victims in Nevada is credit card fraud followed closely by telephone or utilities fraud. The same report ranks Nevada sixth in the nation in fraud complaints per capita, behind Alaska, Hawaii, Wyoming, Washington, and Colorado, with the most common type of fraud complaint being internet auctions and shop-at-home or catalog sales.
With the formation of this task force, agents hope to reverse the trend by placing a group of specially-trained law enforcement agents and officers in charge of investigating crimes involving stolen identities, possession of counterfeit checks and mail theft, which significantly impact the southern Nevada area. Law enforcement leaders know that the creation of specialized task forces improves the speed, quality and effectiveness of investigations, and allows for the sharing of information and resources between agencies. Cases will also be screened to determine whether they should be prosecuted in the state or federal system in order to obtain maximum punishment against a defendant.
To date, the efforts of this group have resulted in federal charges against 41 individuals for crimes such as Conspiracy, Identity Theft, Production of Unauthorized Identifications, Possession of Unauthorized Access Devices (credit cards), Theft, Possession of Stolen Mail, and Bank Fraud. Seven of those have pleaded guilty and have been sentenced to periods of imprisonment ranging from six months to 27 months. See Attachment A for a listing of defendants, charges and case status.
In many of the cases charged, the defendants are alleged to have stolen the identification of victims by committing burglary or stealing mail, and producing counterfeit checks and matching unauthorized identification documents through the use of computers and cameras. They then recruit "passers"or mules to pass the counterfeit and stolen checks at casinos, grocery stores, hotels, etc.
Examples of cases investigated by the SWIFT Task Force include a defendant who, while employed as a legal secretary at a Las Vegas law firm, allegedly removed personal information from client files for the purpose of creating counterfeit checks, and a defendant who allegedly stole hundreds of customer "profiles"containing credit card numbers and other identifying information from a hotel in Las Vegas so that he could re-sell the profiles. Other examples involve a defendant who, while employed as a bank teller in Las Vegas, allegedly agreed to process counterfeit counter checks to withdraw funds from account holder's accounts in exchange for $20,000, and two defendants who fraudulently purchased a 2001 Ford Expedition and 2003 Jeep Wrangler using the credit and identity of another. Another defendant pleaded guilty to possessing 1,408 unauthorized access devices (Visa and Mastercard credit card numbers issued by several different financial institutions.) Task Force members estimate that the cases investigated and prosecuted thus far involve the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars from numerous victims and financial institutions.
"Southern Nevada's identity fraud problem is overwhelming," said U.S. Attorney Bogden. "I am pleased to be part of an effort to combat and reduce the problem. To protect yourself, I encourage you to check your credit report regularly, and if you think you have been the victim of identity theft, immediately report the crime to the appropriate law enforcement agency."
For more information about consumer fraud and identity theft, visit the FTC/Consumer Sentinel public website at www.consumer.gov/sentinel.
The cases are being investigated by the Southwestern Identity Theft and Fraud Task Force, comprised of Special Agents from the United States Secret Service, United States Postal Inspection Service, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Henderson Police Department and North Las Vegas Police Department. The federal cases are being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Karyn Kenny, Ray Gattinella, William R. Reed, Thomas S. Dougherty, and Nancy J. Koppe.
The public is reminded that an indictment contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.