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Mail bust reveals identity theft scheme
Two St. Paul men with addresses in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood were charged Monday, Feb. 10, with identity theft.
The two were charged in connection with a month-long crime spree involving mail theft in various parts of the Twin Cities, according to a statement from the Ramsey County attorney’s office.
Run-Ger Vang, 25, and Chao Moua, 26, were each charged with one count of identity theft.
The two were arrested in the early morning of Friday, Feb. 7, in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood in a RAV4 SUV, following a traffic stop.
The car had recently been documented by a Woodbury police officer and a Roseville resident as a vehicle suspected in connection with recent mail thefts.
During the traffic stop officers observed mail in plain view, including tax documents, blank checks, unopened packages and credit cards from various Twin Cities locations.
The Woodbury Police Department revealed the two men had used stolen credit cards and stolen checks made out to themselves.
One check was for $1,800 -- Vang reportedly admitted he had cashed the check at a TCF Bank in St. Paul on Jan. 23, 2014.
According to a criminal complaint, Vang told police he started stealing mail in late December 2013 because he became desperate for cash and gift cards.
Leading up to the defendants’ arrest, the Roseville Police Department received a tip last month from a local resident, who captured images of the suspect vehicle with a home security camera. The surveillance footage is grainy, but shows a four-door red Toyota RAV4 SUV stopping at mailboxes along the street.
Police said the RAV4 appears to be the same suspect vehicle captured by another home security camera in Woodbury.
According to a criminal complaint, Vang told police he started stealing mail in late December 2013 because he became desperate for cash and gift cards. He reportedly told a U.S. Postal Service inspector and a Roseville police detective that he concentrated on mail theft in the suburbs because he “had more success in those areas.”
Police recovered a number of items from the RAV4, including a notebook with names, addresses and Social Security numbers of 11 people.
According to the county attorney’s office, the defendants stole the property of hundreds of victims.
“Moua even admitted he tried to file an online tax return for one of his victims in order to capture the refund,” a statement from the county attorney’s office said. Moua allegedly decided not to because he did not want to pay a fee to have the refund processed.
Vang has no prior criminal convictions, while Moua has a previous felony conviction for possession of a controlled substance.
Mail thefts up in the metro
Local police departments have been asking residents to keep a close eye on their mailboxes following an increase in mail theft in suburbs such as Roseville.
With tax season under way, thieves have been rifling through people’s mailboxes searching for documents containing personal information that can be used to commit identity theft.
“We’ve noticed an uptick, which typically starts around the holidays, but really starts fast and furious in January when employers send out W2’s and 1099’s,” Roseville police Lt. Lorne Rosand said.
Since late December, Rosand said his department has received 24 complaints of mail theft in the city, adding he suspects that number will increase over the next couple of months while income-tax refunds are being mailed out.
A North St. Paul man recently handed images over to police of a young woman stealing a DVD rental from his mailbox. According to the police report, the homeowner told police he decided to check surveillance footage on his camera after noticing footprints in the snow leading to his front door.
The footage revealed a young woman getting out of a maroon four-door Buick Lucerne and stealing a Netflix DVD rental out of his mailbox on the night of Jan. 22. The man told police officers he was less concerned about the $10 loss of the DVD than the boldness of the unknown woman coming to his front door.
Police departments in the cities of Mounds View, New Brighton and St. Anthony Village have reported recent occurrences of mail theft, but the numbers of reported instances are low and nothing out of the ordinary, officials say.
Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark. Joshua Nielsen and Kailyn Creason contributed to this report.