Thousands of local homeowners who relied on a national alarm business to protect their homes from intruders became victims of identity theft perpetrated by at least one employee of another company that sold them the security system, police say.
"I went to them for security and I felt violated," said Marilyn Varriale, 60, of Gibsonton, whose information was stolen, Tampa police say, after she bought an ADT home security system through Tampa Signal in February. "Obviously I gave them my Social Security number, and it ended up being turned against me."
Varriale and other victims' personal information, including Social Security numbers and dates of birth, were sold to people who filed fraudulent tax returns, according to police who are investigating an explosion of tax fraud that they estimate has bilked federal taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars in the Tampa area alone.
Police do not think Varriale's information ultimately was used to file a fraudulent return, although they say it was sold by a sales employee of Tampa Signal to someone who was committing tax fraud.
Authorities say perpetrators used identifying information stolen from the living and the dead through online databases, as well as from businesses and medical offices where some employees have found a lucrative market in selling customer and patient information.
"People that try and steal from vets or retired people deserve to go to jail," said Russell Pascoe, 63, of Port Richey, who is a disabled Marine veteran of Vietnam. Pascoe's records were among the veterans' medical records discovered by authorities in May in a room at a Motel 6 on Fowler Avenue where they believe drug suspects were filing fraudulent tax returns.
Thieves even were able to steal personal information from a website for a local government, said Tampa police Sgt. Terry Goff, who is overseeing the police department's tax fraud investigation and would not identify which government's website was compromised. "These people (were) able to get on the website in two minutes and start pulling up database of citizens," Goff said.
When police told officials with the local government, Goff said, "At first they said, 'That's absolutely impossible,' and then we showed them." Goff said the officials then fixed the hole in the system.
Telfair told an investigator he paid a woman who works at a company that sold ADT systems $200 for the information and said he used it to file fraudulent tax returns, according to the report. He said he set up bank accounts in different people's names and had the tax refunds deposited in them.
Then in June, the report states, Telfair was pulled over for an alleged traffic infraction. Police searched his car and found preloaded "Green Dot" debit cards in other people's names. Telfair told police he bought the cards from someone.
Later, according to the report, Telfair told police he bought personal information from Rachel Amones, who worked as a "closer" for Tampa Signal. After an employee sells someone a security system, the closer would take personal information for credit checks.
Police said Amones, 40, had access to forms filled out by other closers who worked at Tampa Signal. Their credit check process was changed in April or May so employees no longer needed to obtain Social Security numbers.
Amones told authorities she and another employee sold information from about 3,000 Tampa Signal customers to people who committed tax fraud, according to the police investigation report.
Police say Telfair, who faces two weapon offenses, has not been charged with tax fraud or identity theft because his case has been turned over to federal authorities. Amones has been charged with fraudulent use of personal information.
Reached by telephone, Telfair said he didn't want to discuss the case. "I don't want to incriminate myself," he said. His lawyer later called saying Telfair was not in a position to talk to reporters.
Employees at Tampa Signal referred reporters to Bob Tucker, a corporate spokesman for ADT, who stressed the security company was not involved in the data breach, but said he was speaking for Tampa Signal at the request of the owner, Frederic Roy.
Despite what police said, Tucker said no ADT customer information was compromised.