The storefront in North Miami cashed checks. There’s nothing that unusual in that. However, there were two major differences between the storefront in Miami and most check cashing locations: The store charged very high fees (35%-45%) but didn’t ask questions about the checks that were cashed and it was operated as a sting operation by the FBI. Eight individuals, including two former NFL players, were arrested today on mostly tax related and identity theft charges.

From the DOJ Press release:

More specifically, [seven of] the defendants are charged with forgery of U.S. Treasury checks, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 510, theft of government money, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 641, and use of five or more identification documents with unlawful intent, in violation of Title 18, Untied States Code, Section 1028(a)(3).

The two former NFL players are William Joseph, who started his career with the New York Giants and ended his career in Oakland with the Raiders and Michael Bennett, who started his career with the Minnesota Vikings and also ended his career with the Raiders. Mr. Bennett, though, was sacked on different charges.

Mr. Bennett went to the storefront and asked for a loan, showing what purported to be $9 million of collateral in a bank account with UBS. The trouble was the balance in the account was $9 million less than what Mr. Bennett showed at the store (the account allegedly had no funds in it). Oops. Mr. Bennett has been charged with wire fraud.

Most of the defendants are accused of cashing between 11 and 35 fraudulently obtained tax refund checks. I am seeing and hearing more examples of identity theft; as noted in the DOJ press release,

U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer stated, “Not only is identity theft America’s fastest-growing crime, it’s also a consumer’s worst nightmare. Most recently, identity theft has become a taxpayer’s worst nightmare also. As this three month undercover operation illustrates, identity thieves are using stolen identities to commit steal tax refunds from legitimate taxpayers. Identity theft, when combined with tax refund schemes, threatens the financial security of our citizens. It is time for tax refund scammers to realize that we will not allow them to steal others’ identities and line their pockets through fraud.”

As John V. Gillies, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Miami Division, stated, “Without proper safeguards, identity theft tax fraud has become a growing epidemic.” Hopefully, these arrests are not the end of the FBI and DOJ actions against identity theft criminals.

News Story (Miami Herald)