Steamboat Springs A Florida man pleaded guilty this week to playing the middleman in an international scam operation that netted him about $20,000 in profits.
Thomas Lewis Herring, 62, pleaded guilty to a count of felony theft and got a deferred sentence of 30 months of probation. He also was sentenced to 65 days in jail — time he has already served awaiting trial.
A deferred sentence means the guilty plea is entered, but it is not considered a conviction. Instead, Herring entered into an agreement with the courts to stay out of trouble for 2 1/2 years. If he does that, the case will be dismissed.
Deputy District Attorney Rusty Prindle said it’s unusual for the court to use a deferred judgment, but in this case Herring had no previous convictions.
“It was primarily because he had a clean, a virtually spotless criminal history,” Prindle said.
Detective Dave Kleiber, of the Steamboat Springs Police Department, said the man was suspected in two dozen scams telling people they were selected to be part of a “mystery shopper” organization. The people would get a check in the mail and were told to keep part of it before sending most of it on through wire transfers. After the person did that, the banks would realize the checks were forged or illegitimate, and the person was out of the money.
Detective Nick Bosick said that’s part of an increasing number of scams identified in the area.
In the past year, 45 cases categorized as identity theft have been reported to the police, with 28 since March 1. That includes credit cards used without permission and a number of Internet-based scams.
“These types of cases, they take a lot of work,” Bosick said.
Oftentimes, the investigations require court orders to get financial records from credit card or wire transfer companies, and that can take months, he said.
“At any given time, you could have 10 court orders out waiting,” he said.
He said people could do some simple things to help prevent identity theft.
That includes changing account passwords monthly for all accounts, not answering unsolicited e-mails and not providing personal financial information to anyone you didn’t contact first.
“Banks don’t e-mail you and tell you that they want to update your account info. They don’t do that,” Bosick said.
He said people should also be suspicious when they’re told they’ve won something.
“There’s no such thing as free money, and when people receive these e-mails or letters from people claiming they’ve won some sort of lottery — there’s no such thing,” he said.
He also suggested writing “ID” on the back of credit cards, so cashiers at businesses will ask to see an identification with purchases.
“I’d like to work on getting the city to pass some sort of ordinance that requires merchants to check IDs on everybody who uses a credit card or check,” he said, because that would reduce the number of quick-turn thefts from stolen wallets or purses.
He said if a person does have a wallet or purse stolen, credit cards usually are used soon after the theft.
“If somebody steals your wallet from your car in Steamboat Springs, chances are somebody has used your credit card … it has been used online or in stores throughout Steamboat or on the way to Denver or Grand Junction,” Bosick said. “It happens every day.”