A routine traffic stop by a police officer in Georgia led authorities in Maryland to a suspected identity theft scheme in which state unemployment benefits totaling $170,000 were falsely obtained in the names of dozens of unwitting people.
None of the people for whom the benefits were paid out was unemployed, and none knew that someone had applied for the money using their identities, according to federal law enforcement officials assigned to a financial crime task force.
The Maryland U.S. attorney's office announced indictments Thursday charging Vivek Jain, 25, of Gaithersburg and Amiee Arora, 31, of Washington with aggravated identity theft and mail fraud. Prosecutors say Arora ran a company called Top of the Line Marketing, based in Rockville, and Jain worked for him.
Prosecutors say the two filed for unemployment insurance using names of people from whom they had obtained personal information. The Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation then sent prepaid debit cards to the addresses the suspects had provided, which were post office boxes.
Arora was being detained Thursday and has a hearing scheduled for Friday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Jain has been released pending trial. Reached at his home Thursday, he declined to comment.
Authorities said they got a break on Valentine's Day, when police in Darien, Ga., arrested Jain after clocking him driving 90 mph on Interstate 95 in a new Toyota Camry. Police said his license had been suspended for numerous speeding infractions in Maryland.
The federal complaint says that police in Georgia searched the vehicle and found a laptop computer, thumb-drive, and papers listing names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers, along with handwritten notes listing different businesses. Police also said they found 42 prepaid Visa debit cards from Citi Prepaid Services.
Agent Brian E. Dexter of the U.S. Postal Inspector's Office wrote in the criminal complaint that he tried to contact most of the 42 people whose names appeared on the debit cards found in the Camry. The agent said he "has not identified a single person who actually made the claim with DLLR that led to the issuance of the unemployment benefits in their name."
One victim, identified in court records only as "J.H.," told Dexter that "he has never applied for unemployment insurance in the state of Maryland. 'J.H.' further stated he is currently employed, and has been for the last three years."
The card under J.H.'s name was used 28 times from March 2010 through January in stores or bank machines in Montgomery County, Washington and Philadelphia, according to the complaint. The total amount of money spent on the card exceeds $6,700, the complaint says.