OAKLAND -- Calling it the biggest they have seen, Oakland police said Monday that an identity theft operation that manufactured phony checks, IDs and credit cards has been shut down.

Officials said there are potentially thousands of victims all over the Bay Area and in other states and the possibility of an untold amount of monetary loss.

Police Chief Anthony Batts said breaking up the operation is particularly important to law enforcement because identity theft "puts fear in everyone," including himself.

The operation, which Officer Holly Joshi called a "one-stop shop" for identity theft, was run out of a Hayward apartment in the 21000 block of Foothill Boulevard, where resident Mishel Caviness-Williams, 40, was arrested last week as she left the apartment. She had $4,000 in cash on her, police said.

She has been charged with 20 counts of identity theft, forgery, forgery of a driver's license and grand theft stemming from one victim's loss. She is being held in lieu of $325,000 bail pending a court appearance May 19, when she is scheduled to enter a plea. She refused to talk to investigators, police said.

At the apartment, authorities seized card printers, other printers, eight laptop computers, thousands of pages of blank checks that had no bank name or account information on them, and more than 900 blank cards that could be used to manufacture fraudulent ATM, debit, and credit cards.

They also found phony driver's licenses with Caviness-Williams' picture on them but with different names; documents containing names, Social Security numbers and birth dates of thousands of individuals; and ID cards and credit cards from possible victims who live in other states. They also recovered two pages of blank Social Security cards.

Authorities said it was very unusual for suspected thieves to have equipment to make all of the bogus items and they believe other unidentified suspects are involved.

Oakland Officer Ryan Goodfellow, a member of a joint Bay Area Identity Theft task force that includes the U.S. Secret Service, who assisted in the investigation, said authorities are trying to determine how Caviness-Williams got possession of other people's personal information. They are also trying to determine what is in the seized computers' databases.

The arrest was the culmination a four-month investigation that included Goodfellow, Sgt. Barry Donelan and other members of the Police Department's field support unit in addition to the Secret Service.

The investigation began after a city of Oakland employee who lives in San Ramon found out that someone using another name had cashed a check with her account information on it. Several similar checks totaling about $1,000 had been cashed at businesses all over the Bay Area.

Using surveillance video of some of the transactions, police were able to identify Caviness-Williams and eventually developed enough additional evidence to serve search warrants at her apartment and arrest her.

Police said Caviness-Williams was not working and was receiving disability insurance payments for a variety of back, arm and leg ailments. She has a prior conviction in September 2000 for welfare fraud, authorities said.

As investigators identify potential victims they will contact them, Goodfellow said. Anyone with information about the operation can call authorities at 510-777-8930.

IDENTITY THEFT PROTECTION
  • Contact the three nationwide consumer reporting companies to place a fraud alert on your credit report. TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, 92834-6790; Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, Ga., 30374-0241; Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com; P.O. Box 9554, Allen, Texas, 75013
  • Close the accounts that you know, or believe, have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
  • File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place. In Oakland, call 510-777-8930.
  • File a complaint online at www.ftc.gov/idtheft, or 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338)
    source: federal trade commission