Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office investigates identity theft

Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office investigates identity theft

Washington Parish Sheriff Randy Seal cautions all Washington Parish residents to be aware of identity thieves who are operating in the parish and surrounding areas. He said that even he and his wife have been victimized.

“My wife and I recently received an unwelcome surprise from our bank,” Seal explained. “We learned that we had written checks in Baton Rouge and Denham Springs for more than $2,500 at businesses we had not gone to.

“As we looked into the matter, we learned that we were among many victims of a sophisticated identity theft ring operating from Texas to Florida.”

Locally, the WPSO and the Bogalusa and Franklinton police departments have been busy investigating more than 20 cases of identity theft in Washington Parish alone, and the sheriff’s office suspects there are at least 20 more cases that are unreported.

“Reports continue to be generated weekly about identity thefts, and I have traced these criminals at work in five states,” said WPSO Captain Tommie Sorrell. “I spent nearly a week working in Baton Rouge and Denham Springs and two people were arrested after businesses in this area were alerted about the scam. Two females were arrested by the Denham Springs Police Department while they were in the process of cashing a fraudulent check.

“One of the arrested females and an unidentified male went on a two-day shopping spree, passing fraudulent checks on the accounts of innocent and unsuspecting Washington Parish residents.”

The pair was caught on video surveillance at Academy Sports and Walmart stores in Denham Springs and Baton Rouge, and at a Lowe’s and a Family Dollar store in Baton Rouge. The male also appeared at the Academy Sports in Hammond. The WPSO believes he resides in the Baton Rouge area, possibly in the vicinity of Plank Road.

Other unidentified suspects also appear on surveillance videos, and are suspected of being a part of the same criminal group.

Its method of operation is to obtain the routing number, checking account number and driver’s license number from the victim’s personal checking account, then produce counterfeit checks along with a counterfeit driver’s license.

Shopping sprees generally occur at Walmart, Lowe’s or Academy stores, or shopping malls where electronics and other high-end merchandise can easily be purchased. The thieves immediately relocate to another Walmart, Lowe’s or Academy and return the merchandise for cash

One of the arrested women has agreed to cooperate in the investigation, but will not provide any details about the identities of her accomplices. She did warn investigators, “This is larger than you can imagine.”

According to the WPSO, the same criminals have struck recently in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Louisiana purchases were made in Baton Rouge, Denham Springs, Slidell, Covington, Amite, Hammond and Lake Charles. In each case, the criminals were operating in the name of a Washington Parish resident.

Sorrell is coordinating the investigation.

“The two women who have been arrested are not the masterminds,” she said. “They come into play because they are expendable. There are others who are behind this criminal scheme and we need to identify them.”

Seal advises all Washington Parish residents to carefully guard their personal banking and driver’s license information, and to not leave mail in mailboxes for an extended period of time.

“It would be wise buy a shredder if you don’t have one and shred any documents that contain personal information,” he said. “Personal checking accounts should be monitored for any unusual activity.”

The sheriff vows to put the identity thieves behind bars.

“My deputies will not stop until these criminals are identified, apprehended and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Seal said. “We want the privilege of placing each one of them on a prison bus headed to Angola.”
Legal Shred
235 Apollo Beach Blvd #507
Apollo Beach, FL 33572