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SAN DIEGO (CNS) Five Brazilian nationals were charged by San Diego prosecutors Thursday with allegedly running a nationwide identity theft scheme that involved stealing personal information and using the stolen identities to establish fake driver accounts with app-based rideshare and food delivery companies.

Prosecutors say the group stole images and information from victims’ driver’s licenses and Social Security numbers, used that info to create driver accounts for rideshare and delivery companies, then used, rented or sold those accounts, including to people who otherwise would not qualify to drive for the companies.

Additional identities were stolen while deliveries were being conducted using the fraudulent accounts, according to the U.S Attorney’s Office, which said nearly 100 victims have been identified in California and elsewhere across the country.

State and federal law enforcement agents arrested Gustavo De Avila Moreira Farinha, 29; Tatiane Pereira Arantes, 37; Natalia Magalhaes Rocha, 29; and Leonardo Trulsen De Oliveira on Thursday, while a fifth unnamed defendant remains at large, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, and aggravated identity theft and those in custody are expected to make their initial appearance Friday morning in San Diego federal court.

The complaint alleges the scheme began in 2018 with rideshare companies, but pivoted during the COVID-19 pandemic to food delivery companies, which saw a much larger increase in demand during the pandemic-related lockdowns. The U.S. Attorney’s Office did not identify which companies were utilized in the alleged scheme.

“Identity theft is a special kind of misery for victims who often are forced into a yearslong legal morass of confusion and frustration to reclaim their good names,” said Acting  U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “Today’s arrests are the first strike back on behalf of those victims.”

Anyone who thinks they may be a victim in this case or who might have information relevant to the investigation was asked to call Homeland Security Investigations in San Diego at 760-901-1004.

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