Finding identity theft suspects can be difficult for investigators. Once they do make an arrest, matching the suspect to stolen checks can also be a challenge. And then, the case is usually resolved with little jail time.
Detectives were watching one Lodi case, which was taken to the federal level and prosecuted under new laws signed by President George Bush. The hope is to get stiffer penalties for those who steal identities, investigators said.
Last Friday, Lodi resident Amanda Greenmyer, 19, was sentenced to six months in federal prison and three years of supervised release, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
Greenmyer pleaded guilty to one count each of bank fraud and aggravated identity theft. She was accused of trying to cash a Lodi woman's paycheck by using the woman's driver's license.
The case is only one of many in Lodi. Forgery and identity theft cases are on the rise, local law enforcement officials said.
Many times, said Lodi police Detective John Nickel, the investigation takes awhile, the case drags on even longer and then the suspect is sentenced to probation, or a few months in jail.
Because the San Joaquin County Jail is overcrowded, inmates doing a few months' time for non-violent crimes are often released almost immediately and allowed to do community service.
Greenmyer, however, will have to serve at least 85 percent of her time in prison, due to federal rules.
"There are a lot of resources being marshaled to ferret people out who are trying to make easy money by stealing financial information," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Rodriguez, who prosecuted Greenmyer.
Rodriquez declined to speak specifically about the Greenmyer case, other than to say that she felt the sentence was fair for a "young, first-time offender."
In general, Rodriguez said, identity theft victims don't just lose money. They have no idea who else may have used their identity, and they spend countless hours talking to creditors, closing bank accounts and getting new documents.
The problem is nationwide, said San Joaquin County Sheriff's spokesman Les Garcia. The office has investigated 79 identity theft cases since January 2003.
Other cases involve identity theft as well as other crimes. Many such suspects also are found with drugs, said Patricia Rieta-Garcia, a county deputy district attorney currently based in Lodi.
And, sometimes the victim doesn't even know anything is wrong until the identity thief gets arrested or cited and the ticket shows up at the victim's address, said Deputy District Attorney Dave Wellenbrock.
"The impact on the victim is major. It costs money, and it takes a long time to fix," he said.
Contact reporter Layla Bohm at firstname.lastname@example.org.