Would you like to meet an Identity Thief?

Monday, May 03, 2010

Bruno Pavlicek

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Much has been written on the topic of Identity Theft. But what do we really know about the identity thieves themselves. Who are they? How do they operate? What motivates them?

THE I.D. THIEF PROFILE
To begin with, one needs to appreciate that America is plagued with an endless epidemic of identity theft. Much like a disease, Identity Theft has over the years undergone various strains and mutations, whereby various types of criminals today commit these acts on a local, national, and even global level. As a result, the profile of the identity theft criminal often ranges from computer hackers, to terrorists, to organized crime figures, and even your average everyday street level criminal.

To the dismay of many American families, relatives can also be included in our profile of Identity Thieves, in that many instances of ID theft occur amongst and between relatives. So, if we were to cast out a net into an endless sea of crime to determine the profile of the typical identity theft criminal today, you would potentially reel in just about anyone and everyone.

MOTIVES
The motives of these criminals vary as well. For instance, terrorists engage in their illegal activities for ideological reasons and partake in various illegal schemes as a simple means to an end. Whereas the street level criminal, who becomes part of a street level identity theft ring (SLIT Ring), has motives that are far much more selfish and entrepreneurial by nature.

SLIT RINGS
This latter attribute of a financial motive is observed more through our examination of SLIT Rings, which represent a group of opportunistic non traditional organized crime members who have grown by leaps and bounds throughout U.S. urban cities. The reasons for their growth vary. But the one reason that stands out amongst the rest is the opportunistic nature that Identity Theft affords to the street level criminal, particularly as with those who have previously engaged in more traditional crimes (i.e. burglary, robbery, assault).

Identity theft affords criminals a safer and more lucrative avenue in their endeavors. Additionally, because of the anonymity that Identity Theft enjoys through the medium of technology and the mobility of SLIT rings, the chances of successful apprehension and or prosecution are mitigated.  

EXAMINING ONE I.D. THEFT CRIMINAL
For purposes of this article, we will examine the profile of one such Street Level Identity Theft Offender who began his criminal career as a runner for a ring, and then decided to branch off to start his own ring. This individual, who previously resided and operated in Jersey City, New Jersey, was known on the streets as Grandpa.

The interview I conducted of Grandpa in 2004 represented part of my Master's Thesis research which focused upon the examination of SLIT Rings and their subculture. During that time while in the course of my position as a New Jersey County Prosecutor's Detective, I had already investigated a number of Identity Theft cases and interviewed many Identity Theft suspects as well as criminal informants alike. However, in my search of an "insider" from a research perspective, I was eventually introduced to Grandpa through a U.S. Postal Inspector.

Grandpa had previously worked as a criminal informant (CI) for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and had also served a four month county jail term in Nyack NY due to his involvement and activities with a large ID theft ring based out of Jersey City.

ANYTHING BUT A CRIMINAL....
Upon initially meeting Grandpa, my "police radar" failed to go off because by all physical accounts, Grandpa appeared to be unassuming and anything but your stereotypical criminal. Having dealt with criminals of all shapes and sizes and knowing better than to discriminate in such a fashion, a 5'10" lanky and elderly bald white male, dressed in a white t-shirt, sweatpants, and sandals, just translated to me as an elderly harmless man. Nevertheless, the Postal Inspector advised me he was the "real deal".

At the time of this interview, Grandpa, being 61 years old was now operating his own commerical glass business after living a lengthy life of crime. Born in Don Luca Calabria, Italy he came to the U.S. in 1949 and in 1970 finally became a U.S. Citizen. As far as his criminal background, Grandpa indicated that prior to his identity theft case arrest, he was locked up a number of times before for auto theft and larceny offenses. These arrests occurred mostly during his younger years.

RUNNING WITH THE DOG...
As far as Grandpa's motivations to once again reenter a life of crime from his younger days, he explained it was purely financially driven. Several years back, he had fallen on hard times and was in desperate need to make money. So, as Grandpa was living in Jersey City, his landlord's son - Dog - recruited him as a runner in his identity theft ring.

Grandpa proceeded to work for Dog for about a year before he then went on his own. During his time with Dog, he would split everything 50/50. On a weekly basis he claims he was raking in about $6,000 a week for the ring. In turn he would net about $3,000 a week for himself. 

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF AN I.D. THIEF....
The ring's work schedule consisted of working Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Those were the good days according to Grandpa, because on Fridays and Saturdays, stores were so busy, the cashiers wouldn't pay much attention to the transactions and therefore were less prone to scrutinize a transaction.

As one of several runners in Dog's ring, Grandpa described himself as a hard worker compared to the others. The reason for that was as he claimed; he didn't get high before going into a store, whereas most of the other runners did. He also indicated that because he was older and white, he appeared less suspicious to any cashier. This was why he was entitled to 50% of the proceeds with Dog, while other runners were receiving 40%.

In addition to the runners, the ring would usually have a driver, referred to as the "shotgun guy". His sole responsibility was to drive the runners from one store to the next during their working days. For this, the "shotgun guy" would receive about $100 from Dog. Dog however never operated in any of the stores as a runner. He simply orchestrated and managed the operation.

Dog would further arrange to have the runners obtain false identifications through one of his contacts before they ever went out to any of the stores. Many of the retail institutions that were victimized consisted of stores such as:

  • Zales
  • Home Depot
  • Sam's Club
  • Staples
  • Kaybee Toy stores 
     

The types of merchandise mostly purchased were electronics ( i.e. computer laptops, palm pilots, games) and clothes. Most of this merchandise was then sold to a fence in the New York City area where Dog would receive about 50% of whatever the retail price was for the stolen merchandise.

When asked as to what the motives of the other runners in the ring were, Grandpa indicated it was either financially driven or the need to feed a drug habit.

WHO MAKES THE BEST RUNNER....
The best types of runners who were favored in the ring, as Grandpa explained it, was a white person, preferably a white female who was considered the highest priority and best asset any ring could ask for. That is next to elderly white male such as himself. Nonetheless, it proved to be difficult to find white females to work since they were on average intimidated to do anything like this. Therefore, by and large, most rings were comprised of inner city minorities, being either African American or Hispanic.

As previously mentioned though, Grandpa decided to eventually take off on his own because he saw the profit potential there was to make with ID theft. While operating his own ring, Grandpa continued to commit identity theft through the medium of check fraud. This was the same method that was utilized by Dog's ring, and one in which Grandpa preferred as well. 

OUTSOURCING FOR FAKE I.D.'S....
Worthy of notation was Grandpa's description of his "outsourced" illicit contact who manufactured and provided false identifications to runners. This individual, named Baji of Jersey City, would sell counterfeit identifications from his residence every Friday and Saturday night. During those evenings, there would be cars lined up in front and around Baji's house as people would be waiting to get in to get their identifications made. Grandpa described it like a McDonald's drive thru of fraud.

When someone would finally get called into Baji's apartment, they would provide him the compromised names and identifiers of identity theft victims. He would then take a photo of that person, or that person's runner, and within an hour or so complete the false identification. Generally, for New Jersey licenses, Baji would charge about $150. For out of state licenses he would charge about $200.  

FROM CRIMINAL TO INFORMANT....
When I asked Grandpa as to why he eventually decided to work as a government CI, he stated several reasons. 

  • The First Reason was because after serving his county jail sentence, Grandpa reflected upon his own life after considering his old age and decided to finally change his ways. 
  • The Second Reason was because he felt a sense of excitement to work for the government
    as an undercover operative. Not to mention he also enjoyed the afforded opportunity of immunity that the FEDS gave him in cooperating.
  • Third, he was seeking revenge, in that he specifically wanted to get back at Dog due to an incident where Dog threatened him by pointing a gun to his head. Why? Grandpa simply asked to get out of the ring. 
  • Fourth... Grandpa was seeking revenge against all of his prior criminal associates who were of African American descent. They always thought of him and referred to him as a "Herb". This is an inner city street term that means stupid white boy.  

However, from a more personal and emotional perspective, Grandpa was seeking revenge for his daughter, who ended up getting tied into this criminal lifestyle as well. In his description of her, Grandpa described his daughter as being good looking and someone that everyone wanted to have sexual relations with. Dog in turn seduced his daughter and enticed her to work for him as a runner as well. In time, she was eventually arrested, and during the time of this interview, was serving a state prison sentence in New York for her crimes.

WHY IS I.D. THEFT THE ONLY CRIME TO COMMIT....
One of the last questions I asked of Grandpa was if he generally preferred to commit identity theft crimes over other crimes, and if so why. His response to this question was most definitely. Identity theft is the "only crime" to commit he stated.

The primary reason as Grandpa put it was simply because the punishment from the sentences that were and still are imposed against ID Theft offenders are minimal. His only reason for ending his involvement in committing identity theft was due to his old age and because of his most recent four month state prison sentence in Nyack, New York. All of this collectively served as a wake up call in Grandpa's life leaving him with the experience of an immigrant turned U.S. citizen, who now as a former criminal, turned federal informant. All this from the shell of an old man sitting in a Hudson County diner who was reflecting upon his fast paced days of running frauds to a county cop turned graduate student.

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Terry Perkins Fascinating article.
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Theresa Payton Nicely done.
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Darryl MacLeod Excellent read.
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