Help from an informant allowed FBI agents to dismantle an identity theft ring whose members stole Social Security numbers and credit card information to purchase electronic gadgets and other articles in sales outlets throughout South Florida, according to federal court records.
Two South Florida residents are now awaiting trial after being arrested in connection with the case. The defendants, Luis Rodríguez García and Yusi González Aguilera, have since been charged with access device fraud related to the theft of personal credit card information from retail store customers, according to a federal grand jury indictment.
The August arrest of Rodríguez García, 51, and González Aguilera, 33, marked the latest case involving a stolen ID ring in South Florida. On Sept. 3, for example, Miami-Dade police arrested seven people and accused them of stealing credit cards to buy items in stores for resale at lower prices.
Federal officials have said that South Florida is a hotbed for identity theft. A February Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report on stolen IDs ranked the South Florida area as No. 1 in the number of consumer complaints about the problem for large metropolitan areas in the United States.
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From Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2014, authorities received at least 18,428 stolen ID consumer complaints in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metropolitan area — more than those received in New York (18,047), Los Angeles (14,397) or Chicago (9,992), according to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book issued in February.
The latest stolen ID case in South Florida began in November when a woman, who subsequently agreed to assist investigators as an informant inside an ID theft ring, was seen using a counterfeit driver’s license and stolen Social Security number to purchase items at a Kohl’s store in Homestead.
When investigators questioned the woman, she disclosed that it was Rodríguez and González who provided her with the fake driver’s license and Social Security information, according to an FBI criminal complaint in the case.
Because of the information the woman provided, the complaint said, investigators targeted Rodríguez and González and began following them and monitoring some of their phone calls.
“At the direction of law enforcement, the cooperating defendant made numerous consensual, recorded telephone calls to Rodríguez and González, which calls indicated that Rodríguez and González were using stolen identities to make fraudulent purchases at various retail stores for the purpose of enriching themselves,” the FBI complaint said.
Besides Kohl’s in Homestead, the suspects also made purchases at a Best Buy in Kendall and a Macy’s and JCPenney in Dadeland Mall.