Federal courthouse in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

San Diego prosecutors charged five Brazilian nationals Thursday with allegedly running a nationwide identity theft scheme to create fake accounts with app-based rideshare and delivery companies.

The authorities say the group stole images and information from victims’ driver’s licenses and Social Security cards, and used that info to create driver accounts on rideshare and delivery apps.

They then allegedly used, rented or sold those accounts, including to people who otherwise would not have qualified to drive for the companies.

Nearly 100 victims have been identified in California and elsewhere across the country, according to the U.S Attorney’s Office.

The suspects allegedly stole additional identities while those holding the fraudulent accounts drove and made deliveries for the online services.

On Thursday, 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.

A fifth unnamed defendant remains at large, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The defendants faces charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, and aggravated identity theft. 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 large increase in demand during the pandemic. The U.S. Attorney’s Office did not identify which companies were affected by the alleged scheme.

“Identity theft is a special kind of misery for victims who often are forced into a years-long 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 may call Homeland Security Investigations in San Diego at 760-901-1004.

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