ST. GEORGE – Frequent visitors of the Washington County arrests page on St. George News will notice an increase in the amount of identity fraud charges recently.
In the last week, officers have arrested half a dozen people in the St. George area on various charges of identity fraud and forgery.
Officer Johnny Heppler said it has been brought to the department’s attention that there were individuals who had obtained documents illegally in order to obtain jobs in the United States.
For that purpose, and because of the continued threat from transnational gangs, St. George police and Homeland Security have partnered together to investigate cases of fraud and forgery, he said.
For the past couple weeks, officers have investigated those they believe have committed felonies in St. George.
“The police department has always investigated identity fraud and forgery,” Heppler said, “whether it’s forged checks or stolen credit cards. This is going after those who have stolen identity information and are using it to gain employment and other benefits. If somebody has risen to the attention of St. George Police or Homeland Security Investigation because of criminal conduct, then those are the people that we are looking into. In most of the cases, the forgery and fraud that they are committing is simply scratching the surface.”
Heppler recently arrested a man who was brought to the department’s attention because he was suspected of dealing drugs and helping individuals enter the country illegally. Heppler said investigators learned where the man worked, that he was in the country illegally and that he had purchased forged documents to obtain employment at a local business.
However, this is not about illegal immigration, he said.
“It is about security threats living in our community,” Heppler said. “It is about identity theft. It’s about someone committing a significant felony in our community.”
Detective Aaron Bergquist said it’s about identity.
“How would you like it if someone had your social security number out there and were getting employment and paying taxes and doing those things with your identity and you would never know?” he said. “They’ve got your social security number and they’re gaining employment with that social security number. What’s to stop them from filling out 10 applications for credit cards?”
Heppler said the department is looking for anyone committing identity fraud: From illegal immigrants, to those hiding from an arrest warrant, to sex offenders who want to hide out without having to register.
“Everyone knows somebody who is a victim of identity fraud,” Heppler said. “Either they’ve had their identity stolen, or know someone who has. It can wreck your life.”
Heppler said he hopes it sends a message to those committing crimes in Southern Utah.
“Anybody that is going to commit a crime is not going to want to do it in a place where they will be held accountable,” he said. “Law enforcement in Southern Utah will not permit anyone to commit these felonies. They are not going to be tolerated here; whether it’s forging a check or using a forged social security card to get a job.”
Copyright St. George News 2011