This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
When German Rodriguez got a letter from Discover Card last fall, he almost tossed it into the trash with the other credit card offers.
But he opened it, and realized that someone had applied for a credit card using his name and Social Security number. He filed a police report and paid a national credit reporting agency $99 to have "an alert" put on his credit.
"After that, I thought I was protected from everything - that's what I thought," Rodriguez said.
He was wrong.
Rodriguez later learned that Heber Uriel Nevarez, an employee of Centro de Servicios Hispanos - a tax and law assistance center in Ogden where he had his taxes prepared - was one of the subjects of an identity-fraud state investigation and allegedly illegally used Rodriguez's personal information.
A federal grand jury indicted Nevarez about two weeks ago on two counts of bank fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft. There is a warrant for his arrest.
In the same case, the jury also indicted Juan de Jesus Lopez on four counts of bank fraud and four counts of aggravated identity theft. Lopez, who is in custody at the Weber County Jail, also worked at Centro de Servicios Hispanos and is the brother of the company's owner, Victor Lopez.
Nevarez, 25, and Juan de Jesus Lopez, 33, are facing up to 30 years in jail on each bank fraud charge and a two-year mandatory sentence for each aggravated identity theft charge.
An investigation was launched in late December after a car dealership alerted the state about a suspected identity theft scheme, said State Tax Commission spokesman Charlie Roberts.
Juan de Jesus Lopez and Nevarez were alleged co-conspirators in getting credit card numbers to buy vehicles and using stolen Social Security numbers, Roberts said. Court records show that Nevarez has a long history of traffic citations and lawsuits over alleged failure to pay his debts.
"We just know that they both work for the same company, but we've made no connection to the firm," Roberts said.
In Utah, no single local, state or federal agency tracks the number of identity theft complaints from Utahns or the number of identity theft cases that are investigated, authorities said. However, a Utah Identity Theft Task Force made up of nine local, state and federal agencies was created in November 2004 so authorities could work together, said task force member Bob Maes, a U.S. postal inspector.
In 2006, 30 people were arrested on federal identity theft charges and 41 people were arrested on state identity theft charges in Utah, Maes said.
Rodriguez received the Discover Card letter in late November. A few days later, he got a call from a car dealership in Murray that was trying to verify that he was trying to buy a car. He wasn't and he reported the attempted purchase to police.
About a month later, the same thing happened, but the call came from a motorcycle saleswoman in California.
"I wanted to know who was using my [Social Security] number," he said.
In January, Rodriguez met with state investigators who asked him about where he had prepared his taxes, and showed him a picture of Nevarez. Rodriguez said he never met Nevarez but saw him at the center.
"Then everything started making sense," Rodriguez said. "[Nevarez] had access to the information."
Later that month, Rodriguez noticed a $23,000 loan on his America First Credit Union bank statement. Exclusive Cars Inc., in Murray had approved the loan for a 2005 Nissan using Rodriguez's financial information in December. Exclusive Cars did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Victor Lopez, who owns Centro de Servicios Hispanos, met Nevarez a few years ago and gave Nevarez a job in early 2005 because he seemed like a "good person," knew English and Spanish and was computer savvy. That's where Nevarez and Juan de Jesus Lopez met, Victor Lopez said. Victor Lopez said his brother, who is an undocumented immigrant, has worked for him since moving to Utah in 1999. But he said Nevarez hasn't worked for him since August 2006.
Victor Lopez said he opened his company about 10 years ago in Ogden, where he still has an office and now has another in West Valley City. However, Centro de Servicios Hispanos is not a registered business with the state, nor does it have a business license in Ogden or West Valley City, according to state and city officials.
Still, Victor Lopez said he has only had one recent client, not Rodriguez, complain that someone might have stolen their information from Centro de Servicios Hispanos.
Yet Juan Jesus Lopez, a 54-year-old Roy resident who is no relation to the Lopez brothers, said he had his taxes prepared at Centro de Servicios Hispanos in March 2006 and later started having problems associated with identity theft.
In October, he got a call from an auto dealership trying to verify that he was trying to buy a car. He said no, and when he went to meet with the dealership the police were waiting for him.
"I told them I was the real Juan Lopez and there was a problem," Juan Jesus Lopez said.
Juan Jesus Lopez, who moved from Mexico to the United States 11 years ago, learned that he had several loans under his name, including those for a Hummer H2, Dodge Durango SUV and Ford F-350 truck.
Juan de Jesus Lopez and Nevarez allegedly schemed together to take out a $35,196 loan for a 2005 Ford F-350 truck. Nevarez allegedly received a $36,780 loan for a 2003 Hummer H2, according to the March 7 federal indictment.
For Juan Jesus Lopez, the identity theft experience has delayed his plans to get a new house for his wife and three grown kids.
He said he was "really mad" when he found out about someone using his information. "I couldn't do anything because my credit was ruined."
"I don't understand how someone was able to get seven cars and two motorcycles under my name," he said. "When I go and get a car or credit card, they ask me for so many documents and identification."
If you think you're an identity theft victim, here's what to do:
* 1. COLLECT whatever information you can about the types of information used in the alleged crime. Creditors will not release your credit information to law enforcement without a subpoena or court order; however, they should share the information with you.
* 2. FILE a report with the local law enforcement agency where the crime occurred or where you live. If the agency refers you to another office or tells you it doesn't take such cases, request to speak to a supervisor.
* 3. NOTIFY creditors in writing of the fraud. They may require you to sign a fraud affidavit or provide a police case number.
* 4. INFORM credit reporting agencies of the fraud. You may want to review your credit report for fraudulent entries so you can challenge the entries and have them removed from your credit report.
* 5. CANCEL any of your accounts that suspects may have access to. Inform your financial institutions that you may be an identity fraud victim.
* 6. BE PATIENT. Identity fraud crimes are complex and require extensive time to solve.
For more information, go to http://www.commerce.utah.gov, or contact:
Utah Department of Commerce Division of Consumer Protection
Heber M. Wells Building, 160 E. 300 South
Salt Lake City, Utah 84114
Toll-free in Utah: 800-721-7233
Source: Utah Department of Commerce