Mineola, NY - January 16, 2014 - Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice announced the sentencing of a Rockville Centre woman for posting Craigslist ads for nonexistent jobs and apartments to steal hundreds of identities nationwide and filing hundreds of fraudulent state income tax returns requesting more than $500,000 in refunds. She and co-defendant Cynthia Sibert, 25, of Roslyn, also used the stolen identities to apply for bank loans and credit cards.
Susan Pemberton, a/k/a Susan Williams, 44, pleaded guilty in October 2012 to Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, Offering a False Instrument for Filing, and Identity Theft in the Second Degree. Pemberton was sentenced by Judge William Donnino of Nassau County Court on Jan. 15, 2014 to 1-1/2 to 3 years in state prison.
Pemberton is currently in federal prison serving a 57-month sentence on one count of making a false claim against the U.S., in the form of a tax return, and will serve this sentence concurrently.
“Innocent people looking for a job or a place to live shouldn’t have to worry about their identities being stolen,”DA Rice said. “Ms. Pemberton didn’t just steal the identities of her victims for her own personal gain – she took away their peace of mind. I urge all consumers to protect themselves and their personal information by exercising caution when dealing with strangers on the Internet.”
DA Rice said that between February 2010 and October 2011, Pemberton and Sibert, 25, of Roslyn, placed ads on Craigslist for employment opportunities and apartment rentals that didn’t exist.They sent their victims employment and rental applications that sought their name, address, birth date, and Social Security number, and used that information to file more than 250 fraudulent tax returns, and to obtain bank loans and credit cards in their victims’ names. Sibert also used her job as a home health care aide to steal the identities of elderly people in her care and opened credit cards in their names.
In total, Pemberton and Sibert stole more than $75,000 using these scams, and had requested more than $500,000 in refunds on the fraudulent tax returns.
Search warrants executed at the defendants’ homes and rental mailboxes uncovered several computers, hundreds of documents, and notebooks with detailed records of the victims’ personal information and tax refund amounts, with several entries marked “BIG FAT REFUND.” There were also credit cards and checkbooks in names other than the defendants’, as well as credit card purchases of luxury goods, like Gucci baby shoes. Printouts of the Craigslist rental and job ads and applications were also found.
The investigation started in early 2011 when the Buffalo office of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance discovered that hundreds of state tax refunds were being claimed from more than 10 Nassau County addresses, including a rental mailbox in Great Neck that was identified on returns as an “apartment.” The cases were referred to DA Rice’s office, which contacted more than 250 victims of this scam in 30 states.
Sibert pleaded guilty to her involvement in the scam in June 2012, and was sentenced to time served and five years of probation. A third co-defendant, Keith Campbell, 52, of Brooklyn, also pleaded guilty to his involvement in July 2012 and received a conditional discharge.
Victims who attempted to file New York State tax returns after having their identities stolen often had their tax returns rejected because the defendants had already collected a refund in their name. Out-of-state victims have reported that their credit scores have been negatively affected.
Assistant District Attorney Christine Burke of the Economic Crimes Bureau is prosecuting the case for DA Rice’s office. Pemberton is represented by Michael Elbert, Esq.
Tips to Protect Yourself from Online Identity Theft
Protect your Social Security number and give it out only when absolutely necessary
Never give out your Social Security number over the phone, by mail, or on the Internet unless you have an established relationship with the company and you initiated the contact.Do not provide your Social Security number on job applications.Instead, offer to provide it when you are interviewed or when a background check is conducted after you have verified the legitimacy of the company.
Check your credit reports often
Federal law gives you the right to one free credit report each year from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Review each report carefully looking for unfamiliar addresses, credit inquiries, or accounts.
Never apply for housing advertised online until you have viewed the apartment in person and verified the landlord's ownership of the property or the broker's authority
Beware of any apartment listings with landlords or brokers who are unable or unwilling to show you the property, encourage you to view it yourself from outside, or demand personal information about you before showing you the property.Watch out for housing priced below market price for the area, and never fill in a rental application or send any payment without viewing the property with the landlord or agent first.
Get help from IRS or NYS Taxation and Finance
If you think that someone has used your SSN for a tax refund or the IRS or NYS Taxation and Finance send you a letter indicating a problem, contact the taxing authorities immediately. They have identity theft units that can work with you.
Shred paperwork that contains your personal information before throwing it away
Credit card statements, pre-approved offers, bills, pay stubs, tax documents and other sensitive paperwork all contain information that dumpster-diving thieves can use to steal your identity.Shred these documents before throwing them away.
Use your common sense
If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.Beware of any unsolicited call, email, or mailing requesting your personal information.If anyone calls or emails claiming to be from an institution you trust, ask for their name, the company’s address, and a number to call them back.Never “verify” your information to an unsolicited caller or through an email.