ID theft arrest in Hayward is "tip of the iceberg"

May 16, 2011 7:21:58 PM PDT
Oakland police and the U.S. Secret Service arrested a 40-year-old Hayward woman, charging her with forgery, identity theft and grand theft. The arrest of Mishel Denese Caviness-Williams may be just the "tip of the iceberg" of what they believe will be a national and possibly an international identity theft operation.

Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts said Caviness-Williams was in possession of personal information for thousands of people that was being used to forge checks and to make fake credit cards, driver's licenses and Social Security cards. She was arrested late Saturday morning at an apartment on Foothill Boulevard in Hayward. The police and Secret Service confiscated blank checks, blank IDs, computers and what appeared to be data disk copiers from the one bedroom apartment neighbors said she shared with a man.

"We located numerous printers that are used to print credit cards from blank credit cards, including over 900 blank credit cards that hadn't been printed yet," Oakland police investigator Ryan Goodfellow said.

Neighbors said they never saw Caviness-Williams, so they knew nothing about her or what she is accused of doing inside her first floor unit at the Summerwood Apartments. However, on Saturday, next-door neighbor John Birdsall said he saw officers remove boxes and boxes of equipment and supplies from Apt. 176 over a four-hour period.

Caviness faces 20 felony counts encompassing forgery, identity theft and grand theft.

The arrest came after an Oakland city employee filed an identity theft report in late January or early February.

"Just due to the amount of equipment that they had and the amount of victims' information that they did have stored in a very sophisticated record-keeping management system would lead us to believe that it's been going on for a while," Oakland Police Department spokesperson Holly Joshi said.

The amount of forged checks discovered is about $1,000. However, police expect that amount to rise significantly as they continue to investigate.

"The potential can be enormous like this one was, we were lucky to get a case of this time and stop it before it spread," Secret Service Special Agent Jean Mitchell said.

They did not indicate how Caviness-Williams got access to personal information of thousands of individuals.

With the theft ring in possession of the information for thousands of individuals, Oakland police say they may end up having to notify all of them that they identity may have been compromised.

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