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Inside Job

Identity theft ring penetrated Wachovia accounts

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As Charlotteans ground away on their paper shredders, thinking they were somehow protecting themselves from identity theft by destroying financial information, members of an identity theft ring that infiltrated Charlotte banks and businesses were stealing them blind.

According to indictments filed in United States District Court in February, Charlotte residents Jeff Inman and Eric Pyatt, with the help of unnamed employees inside these local businesses, were able to steal the financial information of customers with high account balances or good credit and either re-sell it or use it to purchase high-end items which they then resold. The two have been indicted on more than 20 counts, including conspiracy, bank fraud, mail fraud and multiple counts of identity theft.

According to the indictments, in August 2002, with the help of unnamed employees at First Union National Bank (now Wachovia), Pyatt stole enough information to transfer money from customers' capital accounts to an account at Central Carolina Bank which he and others then withdrew money from.

Between July and December of 2003, according to the indictments, Wachovia Bank employee Samantha Jones provided Inman with the names and social security numbers of at least 100 Wachovia customers in exchange for Inman paying her rent. Inman would give Jones a common name, and Jones would then run that name through the bank's computers and provide Inman with the social security numbers of the Wachovia accounts matching those common names that retained high balances.

Inman then created counterfeit driver's licenses and opened up lines of credit in those names or sold the fake identifications and credit lines he created to others.

A spokesperson for Wachovia, speaking on behalf of both Wachovia and the former First Union, said she couldn't comment on the case.

"We have policies and procedures designed to prevent this type of act including background checks for new employees and training for new employees on protecting data," said Wachovia spokesperson Christy Phillips.

Phillips said she didn't know if the bank had put any new security policies in place as a result of the case.

"Wachovia routinely evaluates its procedures and makes appropriate changes if necessary for security reasons," said Phillips.

Alltel also fell prey to the pair. Pyatt, who was employed at Alltel from July to December 2003, used the user ID and password of his supervisor to access credit report and other credit information of Alltel customers and applicants. Pyatt and Inman would then run the credit of potential victims so that only those with high scores would be targeted.

Although the indictment and an affidavit associated with the case states that many other businesses and companies were targeted by the pair using employees working inside them, those additional businesses aren't named.

The men were also extensively involved in creating counterfeit documents to bolster the fake identities they created, including fake driver's licenses, social security cards and W-2 forms, often choosing to use the names of individuals who had good or excellent credit ratings on the documents. According to court records, the two manufactured at least $250,000 in counterfeit American Express Gift checks, which they then resold or used to purchase goods.

An affidavit filed against him in February states that Inman appears to have used some of the stolen credit information to buy products and gift cards at Best Buy, Home Depot, Wal-Mart and numerous other retail stores that were then picked up by "runners." Pyatt also used some of the lines of credit he created to buy and sell goods on Ebay.

In December, a search of Inman's home at 6412 Eaglecrest Road by US Secret Service turned up fake driver's licenses from North Carolina and four other states, an ID manufacturing machine, credit reports with names, social security numbers and personal information of over 200 individuals and genuine North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicle holograms secret service agents believe he got from a source inside the DMV.

After the search, Inman moved out of the house, purchased new equipment and went mobile.

When Inman was arrested by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police in January, a search of his car turned up more equipment used to manufacture IDs, a laptop computer, a scanner, 20 counterfeit driver's licenses, numerous counterfeit credit cards and about 75 credit reports with customer names, social security numbers and personal information. The equipment found in Inman's car was powered entirely by the vehicle's cigarette lighter, allowing Inman to manufacture the counterfeit materials from his car.

Since April 2002, Inman has been charged with ten counts of fraud and related crimes in North Carolina that resulted from other unconnected investigations.

Phone calls last week from CL to the Charlotte office of the Secret Service for comment on the case weren't returned.

Contact Tara Servatius at tara.servatius@cln.com

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