Police believe an Atlanta man is involved in a wide-ranging identity theft scheme bilking banks, car dealerships, furniture stores and the federal government of millions of dollars, and potentially ruining the credit history of innocent people along the way.
And investigators believe Erkes Antwon Green is part of a network of ID thieves who’ve been able to swipe pertinent personal information from hundreds of unsuspecting people across the country using something known as a keystroke grabber.
Green, 28, was released from jail last week despite evidence an investigator has that Green either filed or attempted to file bogus income tax returns in the name of some 150 or more victims, mostly from Georgia and Florida.
“He can be anybody he wants to be,” Detective Ken Stapler with the Atlanta Police Department’s major fraud unit told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He’s got (at least) 142 choices that I counted.”
Stapler arrested Green on Feb. 28 on bank fraud charges, saying Green allegedly opened a SunTrust bank account online using a stolen ID, deposited a stolen check for $46,000 and later tried to make ATM withdrawals.
“He was able to get about $14,000 from the ATM before the bank realized that the check was no good,” Stapler said.
When police tracked Green back to his high-end east Atlanta apartment using clues collected from the bank, they found a mother-lode of evidence.
“I discovered a file cabinet and I counted at least 142 files that had people’s names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers,” Stapler said. “He’s doing tax returns with each of these names.”
Investigators discovered more in Green’s home.
“While we’re in the apartment, we discover that he’s furnished the whole apartment using stolen identities,” Stapler said. “The vehicle he was driving when we located him is a 2010 Mercedes E-550 that he bought with a stolen identity. And that victim lives here in Atlanta.”
That $60,000 car was the second one Green had purchased in somebody else’s name in recent years.
Police believe Channel 2 Action News traffic reporter Mark Arum, who works for the AJC’s parent company Cox Media Group, fell victim to Green’s scam.
In September 2010, police say Green bought a $73,000 Mercedes-Benz in Fort Lauderdale using Arum’s information.
“In Sept. 2011, I got a call from the Georgia Department of Revenue saying they were suspending my registration because I had stopped paying for insurance on my Mercedes,” Arum told the AJC. “I said, ‘wait a minute. That’s not my car.’”
Arum would later learn that his name was among the files Green had been using to file false tax returns … in his case, for a refund of over $9,000.
“I thought it was done, until I tried to file my 2011 income taxes,” Arum said. “I still haven’t gotten my refund.”
Stapler said Green averaged between $8,000 and $9,000 in refunds, and “Almost every identity that I’ve found so far, I can see where he’s filed tax returns,” the APD investigator said. “If he’s got a person’s name, birth date and social security number, he can make up the rest. He can put in any number he wants and get a refund.”
And much of the money he gets, he quickly converts to cash or to some form of spending that is difficult to trace.
“He usually gets it put on a ‘Green Dot’ card or a pre-paid card you can get at Wal-mart,” Stapler said. “We’re waiting for a warrant now to open a safe we found.”
Green is apparently no novice to identity theft, according to records obtained from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
The Florida native and former waiter had been arrested at least eight times between 2002 and 2006 in communities along the Sunshine State’s touristy Atlantic coastline – Boynton Beach, Coral Springs, West Palm Beach, Broward County – on charges related to larceny, credit card fraud and ID theft, according to records.
In most of the cases, he either pleaded guilty or no contest, receiving probation, a suspended sentence with time served – typically days or weeks – or jail terms of fewer than six months.
In 2008, Green pleaded guilty in DeKalb County to identity fraud and theft by taking, and received a 10-year sentence for which he was only required to serve two years, which included the three days he spent in jail and the remainder on probation, according to the DeKalb County District Attorney’s office, where the case is under investigation.
How did he amass such a volume of people’s identities from all over the country? Police believe he had help, and used a so-called keystroke grabber – a piece of ID theft technology that can go unseen for months at a time – to siphon information from victims’ forays into personal accounts.
“You plug this thing into the back of a computer where the USB cable would go,” Stapler said. “He can leave it there for as long as he wants, and nobody’s going know unless they look on the back of their computer.”
During the raid of Green’s apartment, police found printed emails with hundreds of stolen personal identification information.
“He wasn’t acting alone,” Stapler said, suggesting that Green uses a network of thieves armed with keystroke trackers who have access to offices all over the country. “A lot of times, what these people do is get hired on with a temp agency. A temp agency may work in an office building cleaning up after hours.
“Once (one of the would-be ID thieves) gets in the door, he’s got access to those computers. Anytime nobody is looking, he could put the keystroke grabber on.”
Stapler is looking to bring more charges against Green in DeKalb and in Fulton County, as well as escalating the case to the federal level by meeting with IRS investigators next week.
Green was released from the DeKalb jail on March 3 on $105,000 bond, despite evidence that he has ready access to cash.
“It appears we’re going to have to find him all over again when I get ready to arrest him for the Fulton County cases,” Stapler said.
Arum was less optimistic.
“Oh, he’s gone,” he said, voicing his frustrations with the continuing ordeal. “I don’t feel violated … just annoyed. To this day, I still get calls from debt collectors wanting payment for that car, even though that all been resolved through the credit agencies.”
But Arum said he learned a valuable lesson.
“This was preventable if I had frozen my credit beforehand,” he said of the inexpensive procedure that prevents credit inquiries until a password is provided. “Everyone should freeze their credit to make sure this doesn’t happen to them.”
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