A ring of identity thieves in the Tampa Bay area whose successful modus operandi quickly spread across the country has finally been broken up.
According to a report in the Tampa Tribune, the "Felony Lane" fraud ring, which was so named because it went through bank drive-through tellers and always selected the lane farthest from the building, was stopped by sheriff's deputies in Hillsborough County with five arrests. The suspects were accused of using stolen identities and credit cards at a Tampa bank. Law enforcement officials reported that they found 19 identification cards that did not belong to the victims, as well as wigs and other disguises. They were arrested after a deputy saw two vehicles they were known to drive parked at a Days Inn.
The scam usually worked by having the person that most resembled the consumer whose identity they stole drive to the far lane and ask for a withdrawal, while an accomplice went to the closest window and started a conversation designed to distract the teller.
A police spokesman told the paper that the five suspects in custody are "heavy drug users" who used the scheme to feed their habit. In the days prior to their arrest, this gang went to a local Bank of America and unsuccessfully attempted to withdraw cash with stolen identification. All five were charged with auto burglary, grand theft and petty theft.
The report said that the five were also suspected of breaking into cars in Tampa, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale for the purposes of stealing their victims' identification.
In the past two years, there have been six other arrests in the case, as four people were brought in on charges of breaking into vehicles parked at day care centers, malls and gyms back in January, the report said. Two more, who were connected to 30 vehicle burglaries and believed to have defrauded local banks out of more than $50,000, were arrested after leading deputies on a chase last year.
Consumers can often help protect themselves from identity theft by keeping a close eye on their credit report and investing in a credit monitoring service. Such a plan would alert consumers when thieves from try to open a credit card or bank account in their name.