Tax Season has begun, and potential identity thieves are making plans.
After the New Year’s festivities end, up until the April 15 deadline (excluding extensions) people go through their records from the previous year and prepare to submit their completed income tax information to the IRS by themselves or through a representative, in the hopes of receiving a nice refund from the taxes they overpaid during the year; using the deductions they are legally entitled to.
But well before that date, plans are hatched by identity thieves imagining how to play the system by stealing people’s identities, and cashing the refunds that are due to others.
In today’s day and age, the Internet plays a large role for these types of offenses, using phishing scams and other schemes to obtain a person’s critical information. Yet on planet earth, the old fashioned way is still applied by simply obtaining a person’s Social Security Number along with other matching personal data. Some of the main culprits in these earthly crimes are employees at doctor’s offices and hospitals, and many other gateways and points of sale where a Social Security Number’s provision is required along with corresponding information.
We don’t know if Carlos Molina and his wife Catherine had that intention in mind when they hatched their scheme, but they found a clever way to steal people’s identities… and cash in successfully using a distinctive technique.
Carlos and his wife would drive their SUV throughout the tri-county area of Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties searching for vulnerable free-standing mailboxes in front of people’s homes. Once a target mailbox was chosen, Mr. Molina would allegedly pull up to it allowing his wife to rummage through its contents, pilfering what she believed to be letters that contained personal information of the homeowner, and credit card applications which were delivered that day.
They would then allegedly apply for credit cards through a wireless network that was later traced back to a recreational area of the Camden Boca Raton Apartments, where they lived, after submitting change-of-address forms diverting some of the poached mail to addresses under their control.
It’s hard to say exactly how long their plan was going on for but a fraud alert from a Boca Raton woman’s credit-monitoring service caused her to file a complaint with police who teamed up with the US Postal Service to initiate an investigation. The fraud alert revealed to the woman that her personal information was used to apply for three credit cards.
Prior to receiving the fraud alert, the woman, whose house was listed for sale last September, recalled a black Land Rover which was found to match the description of the Molina’s parked in her driveway, with a real estate agent present who was showing them her home. At the time, the couple claimed to be potential buyers. She told police she previously noticed individuals from what appeared to be the same vehicle going through her mailbox. Putting two and two together, she took a picture of the vehicle’s license plate which she provided to police.
Police were able to trace the license plate number to Catherine Molina, although the registration address of the vehicle was listed in Ridgefield, New Jersey.
According to the joint investigation, the couple was seen on various occasions by local residents driving around Palm Beach County with Mr. Molina stopping by a mailbox and Mrs. Molina leaning out the passenger window going through the contents of the mailbox. Witnesses from the neighborhood also saw Mr. Molina using his laptop computer very late at night and in the wee hours of the morning in the recreational area where the couple lived.
The key piece of evidence that led to their arrest was a close to $900 charge for a local veterinarian’s services. The couple brought their two Shih Tzu dogs to the Vet and paid by use of a credit card belonging to one of the victims of their scheme, but they used the dog’s real names; Romeo and Julieta, when taking them to the facility. Investigators were able to connect the two dogs to the Molina when they questioned the apartment property manager at the Camden Apartment complex.
Investigators found photocopies of some of the victims’ drivers’ licenses, passports and Social Security cards, over 300 items of stolen mail and at least 40 credit cards with different names, according to prosecutors. Based on their findings it has been figured that more than 250 individuals were victimized in their scheme. The Molinas’ each owned Rolex watches valued at more than $30,000, lived in a building that cost them what was described as a “high rent” and paid off their SUV in a one-time payment of $41,000.
The suspects were released on bail of $150,000 each after their arrests. Their children, both teenagers, were placed in the care of a relative.
In addition to identity and mail theft the Molinas are charged with several crimes with more charges expected to be filed by prosecutors at a later date.
A conviction for any federal crime can result in serious consequences. Lengthy prison terms and costly fines and/or restitution can be assessed when a plea deal is negotiated if offered. If you are charged with any federal crimes such as identity theft or mail theft or if any other allegations by federal law enforcement become apparent it is essential to immediately hire an attorney who specializes in federal law. In the event that there is evidence of an investigation being launched it is in your best interest to have a skilled attorney whose practice concentrates on cases of federal legal matters by your side at the earliest point of a federal inquiry to confer with the prosecution with expectations of working out the best deal that can be reached based on the evidence at hand.
My criminal defense firm is dedicated to fighting for clients’ who face charges brought forward by the federal government. As a former Assistant United States Attorney working for the prosecution prior to founding my criminal defense firm in the private sector, I have a clear advantage of obtaining the best desired outcome refuting any federal charges alleged.
Before a plea agreement is negotiated and accepted by a client it is important to understand that the presumption of innocence is the responsibility of the prosecution to prove otherwise. If a client is resolute and believes they are wrongly accused I will always discuss an offer presented by the government, but based on the evidence will also consider with my client if going to trial and fighting the charges is a better option than accepting the arrangement proposed by the prosecution.
Call me at any of the phone numbers listed above or on my Website for a prompt response. I will fight for your rights guaranteed under the Constitution and devote my abilities to assure the best result, challenging all federal criminal charges alleged.
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*Over fifteen years of outstanding private practice federal criminal defense in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and the Palm Beaches as well as all neighboring counties in the surrounding areas of South Florida.