A 32-year-old Spring Hill woman who said she had fallen on hard times was arrested Tuesday after she was accused of stealing her hearing-impaired friend's personal information to open several credit accounts.
Sherri DiPaolo of 3381 Cedar Crest Loop told authorities her husband had lost his job and that she tried to remove the victim's name from the accounts so the victim would not be liable.
But before DiPaolo could, she ran up thousands of dollars worth of charges on three fraudulent accounts, authorities say. Detective Anthony Scarpati said Wednesday that the total money stolen could increase as the investigation continues.
DiPaolo, who had been the victim's friend for several years, was charged with the criminal use of personal identification information.
Investigators think the identity theft began between August and November 2002. They said there is no way of knowing how long DiPaolo could have gotten away with the theft if the victim's lawyer had not told her in August that she owed $5,340 to American Express.
It turned out that the victim had never opened the account. She obtained her credit report and found 13 fraudulent accounts she did not open. Some of them had been closed for delinquent payments and sent to collections, Scarpati said.
The Sheriff's Office could find only three of those accounts.
The victim thinks DiPaolo might have stolen the personal information, including date of birth and driver's license number, when DiPaolo's husband completed the victim's income taxes during the past three years, Scarpati said.
DiPaolo had befriended a group of handicapped people, and detectives are investigating whether she may also have used their identities.
"I am afraid there are other victims," Scarpati said.
When authorities confronted DiPaolo with the allegations on Dec. 21, she said the victim had given her the information in the past and she memorized it, the report stated.
DiPaolo was released from the Hernando County Jail on Tuesday afternoon after posting $5,000 bail, records show.
Duane Bourne can be reached at (352) 754-6114 or dbournesptimes.com.