by: Natasha Chen Updated:SEATTLE, Wash. —
Federal agents are looking for two suspects charged with bank fraud, aggravated identity theft and conspiracy.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Woods said, “This was a large scale identity theft ring involving the theft of over 500 people at a loss of over $350,000.”
Investigators said 37-year-old Jonathan Boothe, 35-year-old Stephanie Baublits and 32-year-old David Means bought a plane ticket to Las Vegas and a motorcycle with stolen credit cards.
They are also accused of using stolen information to create fake bank accounts.
The stolen identities came from car prowls, apartment complex burglaries and from a data breach at a beauty-product company where Means worked in IT.
In July, police obtained a warrant to search the Eastlake Inn, where Boothe and Baublits were staying. Detectives found fake IDs, passports, credit cards, machines to make them, 90 pages of victims’ identifying information and a bag of wigs.
They also found a stolen gun with Boothe as well. Boothe is a felon, convicted of having stolen mail in Nevada.
After Boothe’s arrest, he was charged with a different crime and served four months in jail.
While there, Boothe’s recorded phone conversations implicated a third suspect, David Means.
In one call from Boothe to Baublits, he asked her “if she had asked ‘Dave’ about the ‘thing viewer thing,’ ” according to court documents.
The same document stated Baublits got a text from ‘Dave’ that said, “By the way, I’m working on some new clients for you.”
The recorded conversations also suggested they needed ‘Dave’ to wipe information remotely.
Robert Kierstead, an assistant special agent with the Secret Service, said Means used what’s called a sniffing packet to retrieve customer data from Natural Beauty Group, where heworked.
“These computer crimes are on the rise, and we do see an increase in degrees of sophistication,” Kierstead said.
Investigators later arrested Means. He was released on bond.
Woods said, “That’s a decision that the court makes. When he is released, he’s subject to a lot of restrictions and conditions, including any monitoring of his computers, including any monitoring of his subsequent employment.”
Baublits and Boothe are now at large.
The damage they caused with fake bank accounts will have to be absorbed by the financial institutions they used. The Boeing Employees Credit Union was one of them.
Todd Pietzsch of BECU said the stolen information was enough to create bank accounts online. From there, they went to virtual kiosks.
“They’re kiosks that allow you to do a whole host of transactions, pay bills, transfer funds, etc. With that information, they’re able to authenticate the account at the kiosk, they then make a fake deposit, using the fake check, and immediately withdraw those funds,” Pietzsch said.
The only way a customer would know that a bank account was created in their name is if they paid for a subscription to a credit monitoring service.
“Ultimately, it’s that bank or credit union that in the end has to pay for this fraud. In our case, we’re member-owned. It’s collectively our members. That’s why we’re really diligent, active in trying to reduce this,” Pietzsch said.
Anyone who sees Boothe or Baublits is asked to call 911.
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