A woman arrested in Winnetka is believed to be connected with a Florida-based identity theft ring and may have used information stolen from an Evanston resident, Winnetka police said.
Molly E. Meiring, 35, of 5741 NE 18th Ave., Ft. Lauderdale, FL, was charged with identity theft and forgery on Nov. 29, according to police reports.
Winnetka police responded to the Northern Trust Bank at 62 Green Bay Rd., in Winnetka Thursday afternoon to investigate a report that a woman was attempting to cash a forged check. The teller recognized Meiring as a possible suspect in an internal security bulletin and alerted Winnetka police while Meiring was still in the drive through, police said.
Meiring and her vehicle were located and detained in the bank’s drive through and police say subsequent investigation found that Meiring presented a forged check and stolen identification to the teller.
The crime is similar to those committed by a group police call the “Florida Felony Lane Gang,” where identification, checkbooks and other bank information stolen from purses left inside unattended vehicles are used to write and cash checks against victims' accounts, police said.
"In the past year, this group or some other group, broke into some cars by the tennis center," said Winnetka Police Cmdr. James Christensen. "If they see a purse, they'll smash the window to get it, even if the doors are locked."
The offenders typically recruit a female, among other participants, to play the part of the account holder during transactions, police said. Other participants in the fraud typically remain nearby in another vehicle as lookouts, according to police.
"It's not unusual to have 10 different people come up from Florida and spend time in the area," Christensen said.
In Meiring’s case, police say she used personal information stolen from two different women’s purses left in unattended vehicles parked separately in Evanston and Northbrook.
“They typically try to cash checks on the same day they commit burglary, before the victim has time to notify the bank, cancel cards or put holds on their accounts --they try to do it quickly," Christensen said.
Meiring is believed to have also tried to cash a forged check the previous day at the same Nothern Trust Bank, police said.
Meiring was taken to a hearing on Monday where bond was set at $35,000. Her next court appearance will be Dec. 10.
Winnetka police say they are still working with other law enforcement agencies to investigate the case. Police are urging residents to take precautions to protect their identities and financial assets by locking vehicles and storing valuables out of sight.