AG James Announces Arrest Of Brooklyn Man Charged With Stealing Thousands Through Identity Theft Scheme

AG James Announces Arrest of Brooklyn Man Charged
with Stealing Thousands Through Identity Theft Scheme

Otis Barnes Allegedly Used the Stolen Identity of a 90-year old
Staten Island Resident to Cash Forged U.S. Postal Money Orders

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today announced the arrest and arraignment of Otis Barnes (29, of Brooklyn) on an 18-count indictment for identity theft and the embezzlement of thousands of dollars. Barnes allegedly used the personal identifying information of a 90-year old Staten Island resident to cash forged money orders at United States Post Service (USPS) offices throughout New York and New Jersey, defrauding a local bank to steal thousands of dollars. 

“Identity theft is one of the most personal crimes an individual can commit, which is why my office will prosecute anyone who takes part in this shameless scheme,” Attorney General James said. “This individual not only stole thousands, but preyed on an unsuspecting elderly man, which is why today’s arrest should come as welcomed news to all those in the New York City area.”

“Mr. Barnes couldn’t have thought he would get away with this crime, when he left a trail of evidence leading right to his true identity and his front door,” said USPS Inspector in Charge Philip R. Bartlett. “As today’s arrest demonstrates, if you steal from the U.S. Postal Service, Postal Inspectors will find you and bring you to justice for your crimes.”

A joint investigation by the Attorney General’s Auto Insurance Fraud Unit and the United States Postal Inspection Service revealed that Barnes allegedly assumed the elderly victim’s identity on several occasions, by presenting himself as the victim at several USPS offices and at a check cashing establishment. As proof of his stolen identity, Barnes is accused of using a forged New York State Driver’s License that listed the elderly victim’s name, home address, and date of birth, but contained Barnes’ photograph in order to cash several forged USPS money orders in the victim’s name.

The investigation further revealed that prior to cashing the forged money orders, Barnes allegedly used a mobile depositing app to deposit the same money orders, under his own name, into a bank account he controlled. Barnes then withdrew the money out of the account before the bank became aware of the fraud. Because mobile deposit enables a customer to take a picture of a check or money order, while maintaining possession of the check or order itself, Barnes was allegedly able to then alter the money orders to substitute the name on the order and cash them a second time at local post offices. 

The Richmond County indictment charges Barnes with the crimes of Identity Theft in the First Degree, Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the First and Second Degrees, and Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree. Barnes was arrested Friday evening in Westchester by the New York State Police, and was arraigned today in Richmond County Supreme Court before the Honorable Judge Marina Cora Mundy. If convicted of the top counts charged today, Barnes could face up to 7 1/2 to 15 years in prison.

The charges are merely accusations and Barnes is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

Tips for Consumers

The Office of the Attorney General provides the following tips to New Yorkers to safeguard their personal information and prevent most forms of identity theft:

Secure Personal Information:

  • While it's generally safe to give away your name or phone number, telling someone your date of birth, Social Security number, or any account numbers can expose you to identity theft. You should also avoid disclosing any information you use as a “backup” answer for websites when you've forgotten a password.
  • Never give your personal information to someone who contacts you out of the blue; there's a chance you're being “phished.” Phishing is an attempt to get a you to provide personal information such as your username, password, or credit card number. Scammers can contact you by text, phone, or email, and often pose as a government agency, bank, or well-known company. They'll demand your personal information to resolve some problem or emergency, or say they just need to “confirm your information” before they can give you something. None of these organizations would actually contact you this way for important information. If you are unsure, call the company — using published numbers — to verify it's actually them.
  • Some phishing attempts tell you to go to a website or open an attachment. Don't download attachments or click on links from people you don’t know. These may contain viruses that will infect your computer and steal your personal information.

Delete Unneeded Data:

  • Destroy any records of personal information once you no longer need them. Shred physical documents like tax returns, and financial or medical records.
  • Delete or deactivate digital accounts and delete digital files. Remember that even deleted files can still be stored on your hard drive, so you'll need special security software to erase all your personal data if you're getting rid of an old computer.

Monitor Credit Reports:

  • Everyone is entitled to one free copy of their credit report each year from each of the major credit reporting agencies. If you see accounts or inquiries that you didn't initiate or you don’t recognize, it may indicate that someone else is using your identity.
  • You can schedule reports from different agencies at different times of the year to obtain regular coverage online or by calling 877-322-8228.

The Office of the Attorney General wishes to thank the United States Postal Service Inspection Service for their valuable assistance in this matter and the New York State Police for their arrest of Barnes.

The case was investigated by Investigators Patrick Lubin and Nicholas Vaszeos, under the direction of Supervising Investigators Edward Keegan and Natalie Shifrin and Deputy Chief Leonard D'Alessandro. The Investigations Bureau is led by Chief Oliver Pu-Folkes.

The case is being prosecuted by Senior Investigative Counsel Cheryl J. Lee of the Auto Insurance Fraud Unit, with the assistance of Supervising Legal Analyst Paul Strocko and Legal Analyst Caroline Balshaw. The Auto Insurance Fraud Unit is led by Unit Chief Gabriel Tapalaga. The Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau is led by Bureau Chief Stephanie Swenton and Deputy Bureau Chief Joseph G. D’Arrigo. The Division of Criminal Justice is supervised by Chief Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice José Maldonado and First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.