North Carolina woman’s “selfie” puts face on fraud that bilked Atlantan

An Atlanta man was bilked out of $175,000 when he fell victim to an organized ring that uses identity theft to raid investment and bank accounts, according to Atlanta police.

Atlanta Police Detective Ken Stapler said six-figure identity thefts are increasingly common in the metro Atlanta region as professional criminals target people’s life savings and investment accounts.

“Anybody who is smart enough to do this is smart enough to go after large amounts of money,” said the veteran detective.

Police have identified someone they believe opened up a phony business account at a JP Morgan Chase bank branch in Atlanta, which received $123,000 from Terance Fowler’s Charles Schwab account.

Police say the woman used her own name — Tanya Monique Peel — to set up a business account. Police then linked the name to a woman who lived in Raleigh, N.C., and confirmed it was her from a sultry “selfie” photograph on her Facebook page, Stapler said. Bank surveillance cameras matched the woman who withdrew the $123,000 to the picture on the Facebook page and her driver’s license.

Leaving such clues for detectives to follow was enough to tell Stapler that the 26-year-old woman was not a lone wolf, noting the fraud was clever but its success laid in its simplicity.

“I think she is with a group of professionals,” said Stapler, who is searching for Peel after securing an arrest warrant for her last week. “There is no way she did this by herself.”

Fowler, 45, declined to comment, citing a confidentiality agreement with the banks and the investment corporation. He reported the case to police.

Fowler lost his money when the group got his identifying information and his cellphone number, correctly guessing the cellphone was how Charles Schwab traders verified whether cash transfer orders were legitimate, Stapler said. The investment company refunded Fowler his loss, Stapler said.

The criminals had all of Fowler’s incoming calls forwarded to an untraceable cellphone and then ordered Charles Schwab to transfer $123,000 to the account controlled by someone police say was Peel and another $52,000 to a Wells Fargo branch in California on Dec. 19, Stapler said. The money that was transferred to the Wells Fargo account was frozen before it could be removed from the account, Stapler said.

When Charles Schwab representatives called Fowler to verify the transfers were legitimate, the call was forwarded to the crooks who impersonated Fowler and authorized the transfers, Stapler said.

Then, police say, Peel withdrew most of the $123,000 in a combination of cash and money orders, with 10 of the money orders made payable to Acquisitions & Consulting Group LLC, another phony business involved in fraudulent account take overs, Stapler said. A Peel confederate made two of the withdrawals, police say.

Jim Wanserski , a fraud expert, said identity thefts like the one plaguing Fowler would continue to rise until corporations adopt the technology improvements to make them more difficult.

“That is not a very sophisticated scheme but it worked,” said Wanserski of Wanserski & Associates. “That is a good example as how easy it can be.”

Crimestoppers of Atlanta is offering a $2,000 reward for information that leads to arrest and indictment of Peel, who Stapler has been unable to locate. Callers can leave confidential tips at 404-577-TIPS (8477), online www.crimestoppersatlanta.org or by texting CRIMES (274637).

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