Gerald Howard Washington,19, of Pensacola, Fla., is being investigated by the Tallahassee Police Department and the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) for identity theft.
Washington, posted a fraudulent ad seeking 1,100 job candidates. After receiving responses to his ad for “Howard Enterprises,” Washington set up an office in Tallahassee and obtained social security numbers, urine samples, and $25 application fees from each applicant. He was also able to obtain the applicant's’ bank account information for "direct deposits.
Washington, is being charged with one count of criminal use of personal identification information, a first-degree felony, and one count of organized communications fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor.
Florida DEO Executive Director Jesse Panuccio discussed the issue of identity theft in the U.S. and the DEO’s efforts to prevent identity theft.
“DEO is committed to being a national leader in fighting fraud. Identity theft is a national crisis, and it harms both the individuals whose identities are stolen and the financial systems that are left defrauded,” Panuccio said.
Michael DeLeo, chief of the Tallahassee Police Department said in a written statement: “Mr. Washington used the hope of would-be job seekers against them. His victims were Tallahassee citizens seeking to better themselves and their families. Those who seek to commit fraud in Tallahassee will be investigated and prosecuted for their actions.”
Four cities in the state of Florida are on Credit.com’s list of Largest Metropolitan Areas for Identity Theft-Related Consumer Complaints. Those cities include: Miami, Naples, Jacksonville, and Tallahassee. Tallahassee is the fourth city listed.
Arielle Shaw is a fourth-year social science student from Titusville, Fla., who recently became a victim of identity theft.
“It’s really frustrating and I understand exactly how those people must feel,” Shaw said. “Somehow, someone in New York got my debit card information and spent some of my money. Having to file a police report and being in an investigation room is frustrating so I can only imagine how [the people] must feel. Not only did they have important information taken from them, they also didn’t get jobs that some of them probably desperately needed.”
Investigation shows that Washington traveled by Greyhound Bus from Pensacola to Tallahassee to set up his temporary office and personally meet with job seekers. Washington was also a candidate for the Escambia County Schools superintendent’s seat. He is currently being held in the Escambia County Jail.