Attorney General James Announces Conviction of Brooklyn Man Charged with Stealing Thousands Through Identity Theft Scheme
Otis Barnes Convicted of Using the Stolen Identity of a 90-Year Old
Staten Island Resident to Cash Forged U.S. Postal Money Orders
Barnes to Be Sentenced to 1 1/2 to 3 Years in Prison
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today announced the conviction of Otis Barnes, 29, of Brooklyn, after he used the personal identifying information of a 90-year old Staten Island resident to cash forged money orders at United States Postal Service (USPS) offices throughout New York and New Jersey and defrauding a local bank to steal thousands of dollars. Barnes pleaded guilty to Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, a class “E” felony, with a promised sentence of 1 1/2 to 3 years in prison.
“Fraud is never acceptable, but it is all the more heinous for an individual to steal the identity of an elderly man to line his own pocket,” said Attorney General James. “Today’s conviction should serve as a message to all that we will not allow illegal schemes like this to go unchecked, and that we will hold those accountable to the fullest extent of the law. My office is committed to protecting consumers, which is why we will continue to vigorously stamp out fraud and deliver justice to New Yorkers.”
“Mr. Barnes thought his low-tech money order scam would let him fly below the radar and avoid attention and detection of his crimes,” said USPS Inspector in Charge Philip R. Bartlett. “He was wrong; and today’s plea is recognition by Mr. Barnes that Postal Inspectors and their law enforcement partners have no tolerance for this behavior and will aggressively investigate crime regardless of its scope or complexity.”
A joint investigation by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and the USPS Inspection Service revealed that, between March 2018 and July 2018, Barnes 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 used a forged New York State Driver’s License that listed the elderly victim’s name, home address, and date of birth, but that contained Barnes’ photograph in order to cash several forged USPS money orders in the victim’s name. Prior to cashing the forged money orders, Barnes 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 money order itself, Barnes was 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 OAG’s indictment charged 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.
Today, before the Honorable Alexander Jeong, Barnes pleaded guilty to Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, a class “E” felony. On January 20, 2022, Barnes is scheduled to be sentenced to 1 1/2 to 3 years in state prison.
Tips for Consumers
The OAG recommends 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 share one’s name or phone number, sharing a date of birth, Social Security number, or any account numbers can expose individuals to identity theft. New Yorkers should also avoid disclosing any information used as a “backup” answer for websites when they've forgotten a password.
- Consumers should never provide personal information to someone who contacts them out of the blue, even if they claim to be from a trusted institution, as that is a common practice for those employing “phishing” scams. A phishing scam is an attempt to get an individual to provide personal information, such as a username, password, or credit card number. Scammers typically contact consumers by text, phone, or email, and often pose as a government agency, bank, or well-known company. They typically demand personal information to resolve some problem or emergency, or say they just need to “confirm some information” before they can offer any information in return. None of these organizations actually contact consumers this way for important information. If a consumer is unsure about outreach, they should contact the company themselves — using a published number or email address — to verify it's actually them.
- Some phishing attempts also direct consumers to visit a website or download an attachment. Consumers should NOT download attachments or click on links from untrusted sources. These links or attachments may contain viruses that will infect a computer or steal personal information.
Delete Unneeded Data:
- Destroy any records of personal information once no longer needed. 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 a hard drive, so consumers will need special security software to erase all the personal data if getting rid of an old computer.
Monitor Credit Reports:
- All consumers are entitled to one free copy of their credit report each year from each of the major credit reporting agencies. If consumers see accounts or inquiries they didn't initiate or don’t recognize, it may indicate that someone else is using their identity.
- Consumers can schedule reports from different agencies at different times of the year. Consumers can obtain this regular coverage online or by calling 877-322-8228.
The OAG wishes to thank the USPS 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 was prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Brandon Young of the Auto Insurance Fraud Unit and Assistant Attorney General Cheryl J. Lee of the Poughkeepsie Regional Office, with the assistance of Supervising Legal Analyst Paul Strocko, Deputy Supervising Analyst Jayleen Garcia and Legal Analyst Sonja Leite, under the supervision of the Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau. The Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau is led by Bureau Chief Stephanie Swenton and Deputy Bureau Chief Joseph G. D’Arrigo. Both the Investigations Bureau and the Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau are part of the Division for Criminal Justice, which is overseen by Chief Deputy Attorney General José Maldonado and First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.