Woman was ringleader of identity-theft ring, police say

EVERETT — He flew to India for his grandfather’s funeral in November. Back home someone was racking up thousands of dollars in debt using credit cards opened in his name.

In less than a month almost $30,000 was charged to one of six fraudulent credit cards, police said. Strangers bought cars at a tow yard, reserved hotel rooms and shopped for clothes. Unpaid hospital bills and court fines were sent to collections. A credit report later showed that multiple properties had been rented in his name.

The man realized something was wrong when he tried to get a home loan.

He and more than 100 others were targeted in an identity-theft scheme that spanned Snohomish and King counties.

Everett police detective Jamie French said she has never seen an identity theft case to this extent.

French has been following the case since August 2016. Fraud reports were made in Everett, Mill Creek, Mukilteo, Lake Stevens, Lynnwood, Bellevue and Seattle. A couple of months into the investigation, French traced back the evidence to two suspects.

Police say Alexia Devlin, 37, is the mastermind behind the scam. She has 25 pending charges for identity theft, possession of stolen property and theft. Prosecutors expect to file additional charges. Devlin’s boyfriend also was arrested in connection to these crimes.

Devlin has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Her trial is set for later this year.

Detectives believe Devlin found victims using rental companies, such as Airbnb and Vacation Rental By Owner. She allegedly rented properties using someone else’s ID and then rifled through the houses to steal the property owners’ personal information.

As technology makes it easier to rent homes and purchase items online, French said more cases have been sent to the department’s Financial Crimes Unit.

In 2015, there were 786 reports involving identity theft and embezzlement. So far this year, there have been 416.

The team of three detectives and a sergeant is responsible for those cases.

“For victims, it’s devastating,” French said. “I don’t think suspects realize the impact it has on victims.”

In December, Devlin and her boyfriend rented a home in Everett through VRBO under another person’s name, according to a probable cause affidavit. An office in the house was locked. The computer inside stored client information associated with the homeowner’s business.

Devlin reportedly broke in and stole at least two dozen confidential client files and checks. Those documents, as well as a prescription bottle with the homeowner’s name on it, were later found among Devlin’s possessions, according to court documents.

A couple of clients soon reported suspicious activity on their accounts.

The homeowner’s credit card was used the following month to rent a different house in Mill Creek. Devlin’s boyfriend reportedly pretended to be the man who had visited India last fall. The suspect provided payment over the phone and signed the rental agreement online.

In the early morning of Jan. 24, police searched the home. A pink key, which unlocked a room storing the homeowner’s personal information, was not in its usual kitchen drawer. It was later recovered from Devlin’s purse, according to court papers.

The search recovered laptops, cell phones, fraudulent credit cards and someone’s check book, police said. A hard drive saved photos of counterfeit IDs, paperwork for an inmate’s bond release and an energy bill.

Devlin and her boyfriend were arrested.

The homeowner’s father stopped by the house the next day to clean. He noticed someone had tried to pry the sliding glass door open with a metal rod.

Devlin was still in jail at the time. However, her boyfriend had been released.

The father stumbled upon items that didn’t belong to his daughter, including spiral notebooks that logged names and credit card numbers, according to court papers. His daughter also received threatening text messages, allegedly from Devlin’s boyfriend, demanding his property back.

Many identity theft victims aren’t aware that their personal information had been stolen. Oftentimes, they realize when a loan is denied or they check their credit report.

“It’s a nightmare for them,” French said. “Now they have to convince businesses who they are.”

It typically takes about six months to a year for victims to stop the fraudulent charges, French said. However, there are cases where victims had their identity compromised 20 years later.

French suggested that people remove all personally identifiable information from their homes if they choose to rent the space out.

“It’s not enough to keep it in a locked room,” Everett police Sgt. Matt Mekelburg said.

French said it is a good idea for people to check their credit report a few times a year, even if they don’t suspect they’ve been targeted.

“Identity theft goes on for years,” Mekelburg said. “It’s tens of hundreds of hours tracking down what’s been stolen.”

Caitlin Tompkins: 425-339-3192; ctompkins@heraldnet.com

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