Disguises add new twist in identity theft cases
Stealing an identity isn't always as simple as snatching a purse or pilfering a credit card. Sometimes, it requires a disguise. On Tuesday, a judge issued a warrant for the arrest of a North Miami woman authorities say donned a wig to impersonate her Seffner victim as part of an identity theft scheme. The warrant is for charges of uttering a forged instrument, criminal use of personal information and grand theft. Authorities say 30-year-old Kerline Dolce used the disguise in a bank drive-through to match the driver's license photo of 51-year-old Gwen Young, a business owner whose purse had been stolen in a vehicle break-in.The disguise technique is not typical for identity thieves but is one authorities associate with an identity theft operation known as the Felony Lane ring, working the state from South Florida up through Hillsborough County. Deputies recently tied the ring to the discovery of a cache of driver's licenses, Social Security cards and credit cards found stuffed inside the tank of a toilet in a Brandon motel room earlier this month. Young's license was among those found and Dolce, the suspect in the bank impersonation case, was at that motel but not arrested at the time. "At the time we had her in our hands, we thought she was more of a witness at the time," said Cpl. Bruce Crumpler of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. Through the investigation and the surveillance footage from the bank, the sheriff's office determined she was involved in the multiperson scheme, he said. "They use the females because a lot of the information that's stolen is female information. Purses is what they target," he said. The disguises used in the scheme don't have to be elaborate, he said, because suspects generally use the outside lane of the bank drive-through (another way the Felony Lane operation gets its name) and have a co-conspirator distract the teller by using a closer lane. Young says the woman impersonating her got $1,800 by cashing a forged check made out to Young at Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union. Images of the impersonator at the bank have not been released, but Young says she saw a surveillance photo. "It was a side view, and she had the short wig and she was light complected like myself, so she very well could have passed as me," said Young. Seeing a woman made up to look like her made Young angry. "How could somebody do this?" Young asked. A new business owner who opened Transformation Hair Gallery last year, she worried about the potential financial damage. "Your whole identity — everything that you work for — can be destroyed in the blink of an eye," said Young, who was not held responsible for the money her impersonator received. Young's license, credit cards and purse were stolen when someone broke into her car outside her salon one morning. "One of my co-workers looked out the window and said, 'Miss Gwen, do you have someone getting something out of your car?' " Young says when she went outside, she saw a white SUV leaving the parking lot and a broken window on her car. "My first thought was to get to the bank and close my cards and shut down my account," Young said. But even though Young acted quickly, authorities say her impersonator was able to successfully use her credit card and her identity.
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