INDIANAPOLIS — State troopers found a trove of stolen credit cards, government identifications, passports, checkbooks and more after pulling over an Indianapolis woman who was driving with an expired temporary license plate.
Angela Cook, 47, was arrested for a slew of charges that include identity deception, driving while suspended and possession of cocaine. At the time of the traffic stop, troopers discovered Cook had three active felony warrants, including two in Hamilton County and a third in Hendricks County, a probable cause affidavit showed.
Indiana State Police Sergeant John Perrine, a public information officer for the agency, said this traffic stop serves as an example of a traffic stop that goes beyond a traffic infraction or violation.
“That minor traffic violation, in most cases, is minor. It’s an expired temporary tag that led to a pretty significant arrest and somebody who is obviously involved in some illegal activity,” Perrine said.
According to the Indiana State Police, a trooper pulled Cook over on Interstate 65 near downtown Indy at 11:16 p.m. on Wednesday. Cook reportedly told the trooper she was a 29-year-old female and provided a name and date of birth that weren’t hers.
“It’s not uncommon for a person to give a police officer a fake name or a fake identity verbally to try to elude as to who they really are,” said Perrine. “This person was also able to produce a photo and identification card of the person who she was pretending to be.”
Court records show Cook also did the math wrong. Based on the date of birth she provided to the trooper, she would have to be 27, not 29.
“The trooper was able to see through that obviously using some investigative techniques to catch her on a couple of the things that she told him versus the facts of what they should be,” said Perrine.
According to ISP, Cook eventually provided the trooper with a physical identification card for the woman she claimed to be, then telling the trooper she was 32. According to ISP, these weren’t the only forms of false identification Cook had on her.
In total, a search of Cook’s vehicle revealed she had 40 government-issued identifications, 73 credit cards, three passports, eight social security cards and seven checkbooks — all belonging to various people.
“An arrest like this is significant for us, but it also comes down to, most of these things were likely stolen out of vehicles, so make sure that you’re not leaving valuables behind in vehicles, in plain sight. Keep them locked away,” Perrine said. “Don’t allow the opportunity to exist for these criminals to steal belongings and your identity.”
Although it hasn’t been made clear whether or not the credit cards found or personal items had been used in any way, investigators said everyone should take steps to protect their belongings as best they can.
“Don’t keep stuff with you that you don’t need regularly; you don’t need your health insurance card, you don’t need your passport, you don’t need your Social Security card,” said Doug Kouns, a former FBI agent and CEO of Veracity IIR. Kouns is also a certified fraud examiner.
He said, of course, if a person is traveling abroad or needs it for other purposes, you should grab your passport and be sure to return it to a safe place after. The same goes for a person going to a doctor’s appointment and only taking their health insurance card as needed.
Kouns also has other suggestions on how people can take steps to protect themselves and their identity from fraud.
“Your identities — your cards, your credit cards, everything — make copies of those and keep them in a safe place at home because if you lose your wallet, you won’t have the number on the back of that card to call easily,” said Kouns.
Although court documents didn’t reveal a specific reason Cook had the documents on her, Kouns said his experience would lead him to believe there was a motive behind it.
“The intention to me, obviously is going to be credit card fraud. They’re going to use these ideas that they’ve gotten somehow,” said Kouns. “I don’t know she was going to use those documents herself to commit fraud, but there is also a secondary market where you can sell those peoples identities for pretty big bucks to others who are then going to use them for all kinds of fraud.”
Kouns is familiar with the repercussions identity fraud can have on a victim.
“It can be very devastating. It can empty your bank account; it can ruin your credit, at least for a while and it’s so difficult to fix it all,” said Kouns. “It can be fixed, is the good news. There are things you can do to remove these things, but it takes a while.”
Kouns said people can take other steps to monitor their credit and check for any unusual activity. Several of those tips include checking your credit report often and looking for signs of identity theft, freeze your credit, and track changes to your credit score.
Kouns said identity theft can come back to haunt a person for years and can be difficult to recover from. He said, some people may not even know they’re victims until years down the road.
In this specific case, ISP said investigators will work to connect with victims and determine whether these stolen documents are related to any local cases or crimes.
“Hopefully we can give some of those victims closure and let them know maybe that the person who is responsible for, or is currently using their identity, is now behind bars,” said Perrine.
Troopers reported also finding drug paraphernalia in Cook’s vehicle after she voluntarily told a trooper that she was a “crackhead,” according to court documents, and that he’d find a crack pipe inside her purse. Four smoking pipes were found in total within the vehicle.
When Cook was taken to the Marion County Jail, a search discovered that she’d hidden three small bags of narcotics inside her vagina. The narcotics were determined to be 21 grams of cocaine.
Court records reveal Cook has previously been convicted of several crimes related to cocaine possession, theft, fraud and forgery. Formal charges have not been filed in this case.
What to do if you suspect someone stole your identity
CBS4 wants to help you recognize whether someone has gained access to your identity and what to do if that happens.
Some steps officials encourage you take if you believe you have become a victim of fraud or identity theft are:
- Contact the three credit reporting companies (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) and place a fraud alert on your credit report
- File an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
- Create a personal recovery plan to help take back control of your identity, which may include creating letters to help you resolve your problem and direct you to the steps needed to close new accounts opened in your name or remove unauthorized charges on existing accounts
- File a complaint with the Indiana Attorney General’s Office using this form
You can also contact each credit agency by phone if you prefer not to open online accounts:
The Indiana Department of Revenue laid out a list of questions frequently asked by Hoosiers surrounding identity theft and what criminals do with that information once it is obtained. You can view the breakdown by visiting the state’s website.