NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County deputies arrested a man and woman suspected of stealing personal information from mailboxes and using it to commit fraud.
Brian Michael Chipman, 29, of Hammond, Ind., was charged with various fraud-related offenses, burglary and 13 counts of stolen credit cards on Jan. 29. His girlfriend, Shelly Johnson, was also arrested on similar charges.
According to Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco, Chipman drove past houses in Gulf Harbors, in New Port Richey, after midnight in a rental car with no plates and the lights off. When he was pulled over, deputies found multiple pieces of mail with personal information. They also found checkbooks, credit cards, bank statements and Social Security numbers, Nocco said.
Chipman told deputies he was checking for gift cards, according to an arrest report, but only to buy food.
Investigators believe Chipman was looking for debit cards and possibly planning to file fraudulent tax returns. Detectives located at least 11 names of people in the Tampa Bay area.
In jail, Chipman spoke to Johnson on the phone and told her "we should have a bonfire." Detectives went to the couple's residence in Moon Lake and found more stolen mail — including the names of more than 900 victims and around 3,000 pieces of stolen mail.
Law enforcement agencies in surrounding jurisdictions are being contacted, and sheriff's officials said they are combing through their own incident reports, looking for related cases.
The crime spans all four counties in the Tampa Bay area, Detective Justin Ross said, and the locations seem to be random.
Chipman is being held in lieu of $10,000 bail at the Land O'Lakes jail, the Sheriff's Office said. He was charged with scheme to defraud, fraudulent use of personal information and failure to return a rented vehicle. Johnson bailed out of jail after being charged with tampering with evidence and possession of an ID that doesn't belong to her.
Ross said authorities are investigating whether more people are involved, and he urged citizens to be vigilant about mail habits. Try to meet the mailman, if possible, and be aware of incoming letters that could potentially be used to steal an identity.
"Don't leave your mail in the mailbox overnight," he said.