Regular People “Tap In” To Help Check Fraudsters In LA

A fraud gang out of Los Angeles just wanted people’s Debit Cards so they could deposit stolen checks and make off with the proceeds.

People who participated in the scheme were regular people who just wanted to make a few bucks on the side. The scheme worked perfectly until the gang accidentally recruited an undercover agent, and everything fell apart.

Eleven People Were Indicated In The Wide-Ranging Scheme

A federal grand jury has indicted 11 people in a wide-ranging bank fraud and identity theft scheme that allegedly involved stealing checks, recruiting account holders on social media, and siphoning over $5 million from victims’ accounts.

The 60-count indictment, unsealed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, accuses the defendants of conspiring to commit bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, money laundering, and mail theft from October 2020 through August 2023.

Prosecutors say the group stole checks from mailboxes and post office collection boxes and then deposited them into the accounts of people they had recruited on Instagram and other social media platforms to be “money mules.”.

Regular people are increasingly becoming an extension of these fraud ring empires, depositing fraudulent checks as a side hustle.

A Web of Alleged Co-Conspirators Working Together

The indictment portrays a perpetrator named Carlos Corona, 28, of Los Angeles, as the central figure who dispatched several co-defendants to steal checks, seek out account holders, and deposit and withdraw ill-gotten funds. He went by the name “Charlie Hustle” or charliehustle323 on social media.

An alleged co-conspirator, Ricardo Ochoa Jr., 30, of Los Angeles, posted an Instagram story depicting cash and receipts showing a $81,559 check had been deposited one day, and withdrawn the next. “18$ into 81k,” he bragged, inviting others to join the scheme.

Saulo Solares, 21, of Los Angeles, allegedly stole mail from post offices in the Eagle Rock and Griffith Park neighborhoods, then passed checks to Mr. Corona and others for deposit.

Luring Account Holders on Social Media – They Turned Over Their Debit Cards

Prosecutors say the gang advertised openly on their Instagram accounts, offering people easy cash for minimal participation.

“ALL BANKS WELCOME PICKING UP CARDS TAP IN,” wrote Luis Enrique Lopez, 23, of Huntington Park, according to the indictment. He allegedly instructed a would-be recruit: “I deposit a check in your account and then when it clears we split the money up me you and the check plug.”

The money mules would get a cut of the action, and they only needed to turn over their debit cards to the check fraudsters.

Money Mules Were Advised To File False Claims Once Banks Closed The Accounts

As part of the scheme, people who handed over their debit cards and PIN numbers were instructed to file false fraud claims with the banks. They were advised that they should contact the customer service department and report that they had lost their debit cards and that their online banking was hacked.

An Undercover Recruit Spoils The Plot

One unnamed person who responded to the account solicitations was an undercover law enforcement agent.

Karen Vanessa Martinez, 26, of Los Angeles, allegedly instructed the agent to meet a man in a green Toyota Prius to provide a debit card. After card issues foiled initial deposits, prosecutors say Ms. Martinez later asked why the card said the agent had been an account holder only since 2021.

According to the indictment, the conspirators often urged recruits to claim their accounts had been hacked if banks inquired about fraudulent deposits.

There Were Dozens of Accounts Compromised

All told, members of the alleged conspiracy deposited stolen checks into at least two dozen bank accounts at Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Chase, Navy Federal Credit Union and several other banks. In each case, the indictment says, they swiftly withdrew funds through cash withdrawals, transfers and debit purchases before the fraud could be detected.

A Wells Fargo investigator uncovered $68,621 in fraudulent deposits into one customer’s account from April to September 2021. In another instance, the defendants deposited a $46,461 check stolen from the Los Angeles Unified School District into a Wells Fargo account.

According to the charges, Jose Luis Edeza Jr., 22, of Los Angeles, alone deposited over $200,000 in stolen checks into four Wells Fargo accounts over a 10-month span in 2022.

While the exact total is unclear, prosecutors put intended losses at over $5.5 million, which could grow as the investigation continues. The defendants face additional charges of aggravated identity theft for using the names of check payees.

“This case demonstrates the brazenness of fraudsters who siphoned millions of dollars from hardworking Americans and proved adept at exploiting the reach and anonymity of social media,” said U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada. “We will work tirelessly to identify those who use the internet to prey upon and recruit the vulnerable into criminal schemes.”

Read The Whole Indictment