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Burnaby fraud factory busted
Burnaby RCMP have arrested two people and are seeking other suspects after discovering an identity theft ring operating out of a Metrotown condo.
Mounties received a tip on March 7 that a forged credit card was found inside a specialized printer that had been taken to a shop for repairs, said Burnaby RCMP Insp. Tim Shields at a press conference Tuesday. Officers conducted surveillance until a suspect picked up the printer, following him back to an 11th floor condo in the Metrotown area.
While officers were waiting for a search warrant to be drafted, a man and a woman left the condo and were arrested.
When they executed the search warrant, officers were "amazed" to find more than 3,000 forged credit cards and payment cards, identification cards, passports, identity information, computers, 15 hard drives, several large boxes of stolen mail, thousands of hotel receipts, a card printer and embosser and a hot foil stamp used in forging credit cards.
There were break-and-enter tools, a small amount of drugs, Ecstasy and marijuana, a Taser, three replica air rifles and two replica handguns.
They even found a Canada post bag and uniform jacket which would have been used while stealing mail.
Investigators have only been able to check three of the 15 hard drives but already have found spreadsheets containing identity information for over 44,000 people, including full names, addresses, social insurance numbers, driver's licence information, and banking information.
The three hard drives also contained over 80,000 credit card numbers believed to be stolen from businesses.
Shields said so far, the information has been linked to more than 80 break-and-enters and thefts from autos in the Burnaby and Vancouver area.
There were also hundreds of pieces of legitimate identification, belonging to 115 people, likely from stolen wallets and purses. Numerous passports from Canada and countries including Great Britain and Japan, were found in the condo, some unsuccessfully shredded.
Hotel receipts stolen from two hotels, the Sandman Hotel in Surrey and the Ramada Hotel on Kingsway in Vancouver, were also found, which contain credit card and driver's licence numbers and personal information, Shields said.
The information would have been used to create false identification, do bank account takeovers, and apply for lines of credit and credit cards in other people's names, he said. Police have no information to indicate there were any hotel employees involved.
Police found 24 separate aliases used by one of the suspects for bank account takeovers or to create accounts into which funds would be transferred from victims' accounts.
Two Burnaby residents, Anthony Pavo Stulec, 29, who was known to police, and his common-law wife, Stephanie Jean Smyth, 21, who did not have a previous criminal history, have been arrested. They each face 19 charges including possession of a prohibited weapon, possession of stolen property, forgery, identity theft, possession of equipment used to forge documents and possession of stolen mail.
Stulec remains in custody while Smyth has been released on a promise to appear.
Police believe there are many others involved. "Obviously this is a very organized group of people who are committing these crimes," he said, noting there is no evidence it is gang-related.
Investigators still have many tips, leads and identities to follow up on and people to track down in the case, including people caught on security video from local banks. "We've just started to see the tip of the iceberg."
The investigation is ongoing and will likely last for many months, said Shields, who called the fraud operation "very significant" and larger than any he's seen before.
It's not known how many victims there are, he said, noting there are still many more seized hard drives to analyze.
"We don't know just how big this thing may get," he said. "There are tentacles that reach out to virtually every municipality in the Lower Mainland, many dozens of businesses."
Safeguard your info
Burnaby RCMP Insp. Tim Shields recommends people safeguard their personal information through steps including:
• not leaving purses, wallets and identification in vehicles
• shredding mail with information such as names and addresses before putting it in the garbage
• not giving personal information over the phone unless you are absolutely sure you know who you're speaking with.
Anyone who believes they may be the victim of identity theft should notify credit reporting agencies Equifax and TransUnion to flag accounts and prevent people from applying for loans in your name
More info: antifraudcentre.ca