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WASHINGTON PARISH, La. The Washington Parish sheriff was recently victim of a 'sophisticated identify theft ring operating from Texas to Florida,' according to the sheriff's office. Washington Parish is a common target for the ring.

Sheriff Randy 'County' Seal and his wife were notified that they had written checks for more than $2,500 to Baton Rouge and Denham Springs businesses they had not gone too, officials said.

The method used by the thieves is to obtain the routing number, checking account number and driver's license number from the victim's personal checking account. The information is used to produce counterfeit checks, along with a counterfeit driver's license. Then, shopping sprees occur at Wal-Mart, Lowe's, Academy or shopping malls where electronics and other high end merchandise can easily be purchased. Immediately, the suspects return to another location of the same store and return the merchandise for cash.

Weekly thefts continue to be reported and the criminals have been traced to five states, said Sheriff's Office Captain Tommie Sorrell.

'I spent nearly a week working in Baton Rouge and Denham Springs, and two people were arrested after businesses in this area were alerted about the scam,' Sorrell said.

The two women were arrested by the Denham Springs Police Department as they were in the process of cashing a fraudulent check.

One of the arrested women and an unidentified man were on a two-day shopping spree when they were caught on video surveillance at Academy and Wal-Mart stores in Denham Springs and Baton Rouge as well as a Lowe's and Family Dollar in Baton Rouge.

The male was also caught on video at Academy in Hammond. He is believed to reside in the Baton Rouge area, possibly near Plank Road.

One of the arrested women agreed to cooperate in the investigation but will not provide details about the identities of her accomplices. 'This is larger than you can imagine,' she said.

The two women arrested are not the masterminds and are expendable in the larger picture, Sorrell said.

Other unidentified thieves have been appearing on surveillance videos and are suspected to be a part of this criminal group.

These same criminals have recently struck in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Louisiana purchases were made in Baton Rouge, Denham Springs, Slidell, Covington, Amite, Hammond and Lake Charles. In each case, the criminals were operating in the name of a Washington Parish resident.

There are 20 cases currently being worked on by the sheriff's office, Bogalusa Police Department and Franklinton Police Department, and authorities suspect that there are at least 20 more unreported cases.

Residents are advised to carefully guard their personal banking and driver's license information and not to leave mail in mailboxes for an extended period of time. Officials suggest buying a shredder in order to destroy any documents containing personal information. Personal checking accounts should be monitored for unusual activity.

'My deputies will not stop until these criminals are identified, apprehended and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We want the privilege of placing each one of them on a prison bus headed to Angola,' Seal said.

Anyone that can help identify any of the suspects is asked to call (985) 735-7185 or Crimestoppers at (504) 837-8477.

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