A nearly nine month long investigation by Sheriff’s Detectives has led to the arrest of a suspected identity thief who bilked several local victims out of at least $158,000.
Sheriff’s Detectives began their investigation in early April, 2010 after a Santa Barbara area man reported that someone had used the internet to transfer more than $5,000 from the victim’s legitimate bank account into a fraudulent bank account that had recently been opened under his name.
Over the next two months, Sheriff’s detectives began working three more cases in which the victims, who lived in the Goleta/Santa Barbara area, reported similar crimes in which someone had used the victim’s name to open a fraudulent bank account and then transferred thousands of dollars from the victim’s legitimate bank account. In one case, the suspect transferred $65,500 into a fraudulent account; in the two other cases, the suspect transferred $11,500 and $16,500. In each case the suspect would visit various Wal-Mart stores in Southern California at which he would purchase money orders with the ill gotten funds.
In September, another local victim reported that someone had transferred $58,000 from his bank account in a similar fashion. At about this time, Sheriff’s detectives were able to identify a suspect, 26-year old Imoukhuede Ohiwerei Ehimika (DOB 6/18/84) who had moved to the area from his native Nigeria to attend college at UCSB where he is no longer a student. On Tuesday, December 21, 2010 Sheriff’s detectives served a search and arrest warrant at Ehimika’s residence on the 200 block of Mathilda Drive in Goleta. Ehimika was taken into custody at that time.
Further investigation has revealed that Ehimika would select his victim’s by trolling through neighborhoods looking for unsecured wireless internet connections. Once he identified a residence with a vulnerable signal, he would use his computer skills to obtain critical personal information from his victims and then ultimately tap into their home equity accounts.
At this time, Sheriff’s Detectives have identified five local residents who Ehimika targeted, but they are urging anyone who was noticed large sums of money being withdrawn from their home equity accounts to contact them at 805-681-4150.
Ehimika was booked into the Santa Barbara County Jail on Tuesday, December 21, 2010 for several charges related to identity theft. He was released on Tuesday, December 28, 2010 after posting $150,000 bail. The case has been forwarded to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office which will decide what charges will be filed.
You can help protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft by going to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s website. On the lower right half of the home page you will find a link to several valuable resources and tips offered by the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Crime Prevention Specialists.