Identity theft ring busted

June 9, 2011

Casey Curtis Sartain

Three alleged members of an identity theft ring suspected of more than 150 theft cases in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties were arrested on Friday.

San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s detectives, Pismo Beach Police, Santa Maria Police and United States Postal Inspection Service investigators recovered evidence of mail theft, stolen checks and identity fraud during the raid of a Santa Maria home. Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Bomb Task Force processed an improvised explosive device at the scene.

Ring members allegedly stole checks from mailboxes and washed off the payee’s name. They then created online accounts and transferred funds to debit cards that accomplices used to remove money from the unsuspecting victims’ bank accounts, authorities said.

Police booked Natalie Rae Fuentes, 26, into San Luis Obispo County Jail on numerous fraud charges with bail set at $20,000.

Both Michael John Hastings, 44, and Casey Sartain, 29, were also charged with parole violations and are being held without bail.

Natalie Rae Fuentes

Michael John Hastings


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Twice I had money taken from my checking account. One for $80.00 and one for $185.00. I caught them in time because I’m forever checking my account to see if I have any money in there. The bank got my money back. Heritage Oaks has always been good for me. They were right on top of it. Even called me a few times when I used the debit for something fairly expensive to ask if it was me using my card. They are keepers as far as I’m concerned. People that steal from seniors should get life. Same with stealing from single mothers. Life without parole. Maybe they will get religion in jail like so many others have. God Bless them.

Ms. or Mrs. Fuentes looks like she still doesn’t ‘get it’. No doubt we will see her again in the lineup. Indeed, Mr. Sartain looks a bit road worn for his age.

Just one more a long list

That Sartain dude is 29? Man, meth is a helluva drug. Show your kids his picture…thats the face of drugs.

Holy cow! You’re right! I was thinking Hastings was the 29-yr old… YIKES, was I wrong!

Full agreement with r0y – the ACH (automated clearing house) system is weak, but so is the postal system.

I’ve had mail stolen and had someone attempt to ‘steal’ my identity recently – wonder if these 3 were involved. As a result, I installed a so-called ‘secure’ mailbox. Once the mail goes in, it falls into the secure section that only someone with a key (or a really big crowbar) can access.

This is a growing problem, and as a result I do as little business through the postal system as possible. It just isn’t safe sending or receiving funds through the mail anymore.

True, but the odds of having your info electronically stolen are far greater. Most are credit card/identity-thefts and those often occur at the third-party processing house where thieves can steal hundreds of thousands or millions of accounts. Like poor Sony having 75 million customers’ credit data stolen via network hacks is pretty staggering.

I had to think about this for a bit… I was thinking they stole checks FROM someone to other (i.e. paychecks, retirement checks, etc.).

I suppose if they intercepted a personal check (i.e. to pay the gas bill), washed “The Gas Co.” off and put their false name, then through the no-security-in-place ACH system the U.S. has had for almost 200 years, start withdrawing funds from the person’s accounts, then transferring the stolen funds to another account (to try and stay one step ahead) it works out. Well, it would have if someone didn’t notice the ACH/debit withdrawals from their account.

I first realized how susceptible our checking system was when I was required to fill out forms at the bank in order to get money automatically DEPOSITED, but I needn’t fill out anything to have money automatically WITHDRAWN. How is that secure? Prove I want to put money in, but no proof to take it out?

Hopefully the victims didn’t loose too much, it could have been much worse as ACH fraud has been on the rise (probably as even the scum-baggiest of criminals is now online savvy).