Manatee woman accused of identity theft, stealing $20K from banks

rdymond@bradenton.comMarch 11, 2014 

MANATEE -- A 37-year-old Manatee County woman has been charged with identity theft and scheme to defraud after authorities found she had defrauded banks for an estimated $20,000 using some of an estimated 100 names, dates of birth and social security numbers of victims and potential victims found in her residence.

Kristen Renee Smith, who lives in the 800 block of Winter Garden Drive, was arrested at 11 a.m. Tuesday, according to a Manatee County Sheriff's Office arrest report.

Smith opened several bank accounts, including one with Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union, using different names, dates of birth and social security numbers, then would deposit stolen checks into these accounts, the report states.

The first account with Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union listed an address to send statements to as 1410 Commerce Blvd., Unit E, the report states.

When a detective went to Commerce Boulevard to find the account holder, he found a vacant warehouse building, the report states.

In each case, before the victimized bank could close the accounts, Smith would withdraw the money, according to the report.

This scheme resulted in the banks losing more than $20,000, the report states.

"What she was doing was opening accounts online with victims' personal information," Dave Bristow, a sheriff's office spokesman, said Tuesday. "The big question was, 'Where did she get this information? This is still under investigation. She didn't tell us.' "

Some of these transactions were captured on bank surveillance video.

After a lengthy investigation, a search warrant was executed at Smith's home where the names and information from potential victims were found.

"She would perhaps get a credit line and write a check and then go and withdraw that," Bristow said. "This went on for a little while until the banks caught on, but not before the banks lost $20,000," Bristow said.

"The individual victims are not out money but they have to go back and get new social security cards and new identities, which takes a ton of hours and is a huge inconvenience," Bristow said. "We are aware of 20 individual victims but we recovered a lot more than that. She may not have gotten that far. But the banks are also victims of scheme to defraud and they are out this money."

Smith has prior convictions, Bristow said.

"This is yet another example of identity theft and how prevalent it is," Bristow said. "You try to give people tips but in this case, however, it seems she got these names from somewhere and there was little the victims could do."

Smith's bond was yet to be set on Tuesday night, Bristow said.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter at RichardDymond.

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