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One woman, 375 names, 31 charges

By AMY HERDY

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2000


TAMPA -- It's not unusual for law enforcement to come across a suspect who uses an alias or two.

In the case of Elnetta Denise Brown, investigators say they found a woman who stole 375 different identities in order to make a living off credit card fraud.

Sheriff's detectives arrested the 28-year-old Tampa woman Wednesday on identity theft charges. They said Brown, who is unemployed, has made her living since 1996 off scams worth tens of thousands of dollars, leaving behind scores of angry victims.

"She would take one identity and milk it" by establishing credit, said Hillsborough sheriff's Detective Skip Pask, "and just move from name to name."

Deputies found a list of identities and 60 credit card applications when they impounded Brown's 2000 Chevy Ventura minivan last week. They are investigating how Brown obtained the list of names.

Pask said Brown would use the valid identities, complete with address and Social Security numbers, to open credit card accounts.

She would then buy such merchandise as appliances, furniture, clothes and television sets until the account was closed, keeping the items or selling them on the street, he said.

Brown, of 3404 E Paris St., was booked into jail Wednesday on 31 counts of fraudulent use of personal identification, fraudulent use of credit cards and organized fraud. She was released on a $5,000 bond.

Pask said he first learned of Brown in 1998, but because of her extensive collection of aliases, he was unable to catch up with her until December, when she used a fraudulently obtained credit card to pay for Christmas portraits of herself and her two young daughters at a department store.

Having a photo of Brown, Pask said, was the break he needed.

"She had been doing it for so long, she got comfortable," Pask said. "She got careless."

By taking Brown's picture to neighborhoods where she had listed addresses, Pask said, he was able to get different names from residents who knew her, until he was finally able to close in on Brown's real name.

He said Brown sometimes picked up stolen merchandise in her minivan with a customized license plate, "Brown 3,' and some store clerks remembered the plate.

Still, Pask said, it was amazing what Brown was able to buy from stores just by using a credit card number over the phone.

"She would order stuff on the phone, come in to the store and say, "Oh, I don't have my ID with me, but I have an order number,' and the clerk would just load it up," Pask said.

"So she was working on their weakness."

In the meantime, Pask said, many of Brown's victims are still sorting out their credit after she used their identities for fraud.

"There are lots of angry folks out there," he said.

Brown pleaded no contest to domestic violence in 1994 and was sentenced to one year of probation.

She has no other arrest history in Hillsborough County.

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