THE CHOICEPOINT STING….In the Washington Post today, Robert O’Harrow Jr. tells the story of the investigation that uncovered the massive ChoicePoint fraud. The initial lead came from a sting operation led by Los Angeles sheriff’s detective Duane Decker, which netted a Nigerian national named Olatunji Oluwatosin at a Copymat store on Sunset Boulevard:
On the way out of the store with Decker, Oluwatosin dropped the paperwork he had just received from ChoicePoint and other forms for a company dubbed Gala Financial. At the time, he was carrying five cell phones, only one of them in his own name. Three credit cards bore the names of other people, including at least one woman.
At Decker’s request, Oluwatosin shared his address in North Hollywood. Once there, Decker said he found a printout of a ChoicePoint search involving another name, that of a man he later learned had lost $12,000 to identity thieves. Decker also found a receipt for a public storage business not far away. Before long, searching in unit B-245, Decker found what he later told a state court judge were the tell-tale signs of an identity theft operation: new televisions, electric generators and other products in shipping boxes stripped bare of details about where the goods came from.
The paperwork offered other leads. Decker found addresses that turned out to be commercial mail services. Investigators asked to see the unopened mail at some of those locations. One clerk brought out two large bags containing credit card applications, financial statements and other mail that had been redirected from homes around the nation.
Driving to more than a dozen commercial mail services in one day, Decker and a postal inspector identified redirected mail from more than 700 people. Further investigation revealed links to 22 other ChoicePoint accounts that had been opened under false pretenses.
“I realized that this was just absolutely huge and out of control,” Decker said.
Read the whole thing. It’s scary stuff.