TAMPA — An 18-year-old Tampa woman was arrested Wednesday after she was accused of defrauding at least eight elderly victims of more than $200,000.
According to The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, an investigation revealed that between March and September 2017, Azalea Brown stole account and personal information of victims between the ages of 65 and 92 and contacted credit card companies as the actual account holders. Using the information, Brown got replacement credit cards or new cards mailed out, which were used to purchase merchandise and gift cards throughout the state.
According to Mark Brutnell, the agent in charge of the investigation, Brown was working with Junior Jean-Noel, 21, of Brandon. Jean-Noel pleaded guilty to federal charges relating to the investigation in February and was subsequently sentenced to five years in prison. Brutnell said it was a filing decision by the U.S. Attorney at the time to only charge Jean-Noel. However, FDLE brought the case to the Office of Statewide Prosecution, which decided to file charges against Brown.
FDLE estimated the pair racked up more than $200,000 in fraudulent charges, as well as more than $31,000 in attempted charges.
"Once they get those cards, it's off to the races," Brutnell said.
FDLE said the stolen information was used to make transactions across the state, including Hillsborough, Polk, Pasco, Pinellas, Hernando, Alachua, Sumter, Lake, Orange and Marion counties.
Brown is currently being held in Hillsborough County Jail in lieu of $51,000 bail. According to Hillsborough County Jail records, Brown is facing at least eight charges ranging from fraudulent use of identification of someone 60 years and older to organized scheme to defraud and more. She was arrested on warrants originating in Polk County.
Brutnell said senior citizens are particularly susceptible to these crimes and advised people should safeguard their information. He said shredding mail and being wary of those asking for social security or account passwords helps.
"It doesn't take much for fraudsters these days," he said. "If they take an inch, they can get a mile."
Daniel Figueroa IV can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @danuscripts