Fifty people in Puerto Rico and 15 states, including Pennsylvania, were charged with conspiring to sell the identities of Puerto Ricans.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials said hundreds of birth certificates, Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses were sold for up to $2,500 a set to customers in the U.S. wanting to assume the identities of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens. The documents were then used to apply for driver’s licenses, U.S. passports or to commit financial fraud.
The majority of the documents were legitimate and obtained by fraudulent or false means, said ICE Director John Morton. The identity theft ring consisted of suppliers, runners and brokers who made coded phone calls asking for “skirts” for female customers and “pants” for male customers in specific “sizes” which referred to ages and identities sought.
It is unknown how much money the identity thieves made during the operation.
If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Thousands of Puerto Ricans became victims of identity fraud because the government, schools and other institutions did not secure copies of birth certificates, which are routinely requested by sports leagues, churches and other groups. To combat fraud, Puerto Rico annulled all old birth certificates and began issuing new ones with security features in July 2010.