How easy is it to run an identity theft scam?

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Surveillance video shows Charles Raymond Stato walking in and out of a post office and retrieving mail from post office boxes. The problem: the money in the envelopes doesn't belong to him. He had orchestrated an elaborate scheme to steal from financial institutions. It started with the creation of fake names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers.

"Some Social Security numbers belonged to real persons, some belonged to deceased persons, some were fictitious, and he used these synthetic identities which he created to apply for hundreds of credit card accounts and checking accounts," said U.S. Postal Inspector John Marsh.

Next, he would hit up big banks. "He would send counterfeit overpayment checks to credit card companies in excess of what he owed on a given account, and that would cause financial institutions to generate credit balance refund checks which were sent to him," said Marsh.

The suspect made $1 million from four banks alone. One of the Social Security numbers he used belonged to Kathleen Hennion.

"It was shocking, I felt violated and it was very disheartening," said Hennion.

And there was nothing Hennion could have done to prevent it. Stato just happened to make up a number that belonged to her.

"We do everything that we think is right," said Hennion. "We shred our mail or we burn it. I don't use the Internet a lot for online ordering. We are very careful."

Inspectors say more than 200 financial institutions were scammed in this scheme; that impacted consumers too.

"He wasn't stealing from me, but in a sense he was stealing from everyone because he defrauded these companies out of so much money, and that expense has to trickle down to the consumer, so he really is stealing from me," said Hennion.

Postal inspectors recommend that all consumers take advantage of free yearly credit reports offered by the three main credit agencies. Those reports will tell you if someone has stolen your Social Security or credit card numbers.

Copyright © 2019 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.