GROSSE POINTE SHORES — The public safety department’s budget increased by $25,332 as city council approved the acceptance of money forfeited in an identity theft case at its meeting on Tuesday, July 19.
“We had the money for a while, but that was to put it on the budget officially,” Detective Lt. Scott Rohr said. “What started as an identity theft complaint turned into a huge case with 50 victims scattered across the state and country.”
Rohr said the complaint was filed on July 27, 2021, in what the department originally thought might be a case of elder abuse.
“Someone got the personal information of one of our residents and asked for a loan,” Rohr explained. “The bank got suspicious and contacted the Wayne County Elder Abuse Unit, who then escalated it to us.”
This did not turn out to be the case.
What followed was an investigation into what Rohr called a “dark web of activity,” which led to a search warrant for a residence in Genesee County.
This warrant was executed on August 31, 2021 at a home in Burton, outside of Flint, and included officers from the Shores, Michigan State Police and federal authorities.
“We found hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and stacks of Target debit cards and gift cards,” Rohr said. “These people were very opportunistic.”
Rohr said the Shores resident suffered no financial loss.
The Target gift cards were obtained as part of a national issue known as “K1 hustle”.
It involves fraudsters hunting down vulnerable cashiers — those who might be new to the job or extremely busy — and asking them to use fraudulent debit or credit cards as cash. They use this money to buy gift cards, which can be used anywhere in the country to redeem for cash or buy electronics to sell, making used debit or credit cards untraceable.
The Genesee County Sheriff’s Office reported that a target near Flint lost $93,000 in four days last year in such a scam.
“These trust programs are well planned,” Rohr said. “Even a very intelligent person can be deceived.”
Rohr added that the scammers were “not picky” in their dealings.
“We found evidence that they applied for unemployment, small business relief loans and all sorts of pandemic relief loans, including money from the Paycheck Protection Program.”
Rohr noted that the department had received large sums of confiscation money in the past, usually from vehicles.
State law dictates that the money can only be used for specific purposes.
“It’s a great tool to help offset the budget,” Rohr said. “It needs to be used for something that advances the department. Things like training or equipment. We are keen to pursue cases like this.