FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida -- An identity theft investigation that led to an apartment in Sunrise, Florida, began nearly 5,000 miles away when a resident of Juneau complained that someone changed the direct deposit information in his Alaska Permanent Fund dividend account without his permission.
It wasn’t an uncommon complaint, said Nathan Imes, a criminal investigator for Alaska’s Department of Revenue. He put it on a list of things “to investigate as time allowed.”
But over the next few weeks, 17 similar complaints came in. Imes’ list was growing, and he realized there was a pattern: Someone was stealing from recipients of the dividend, an annual subsidy to each of the state’s permanent residents based on oil profits.
The thief was redirecting the money to prepaid bank cards from American Express Centurion and Metabank. Those cards were traced to Larry Scroggins, 36, of Sunrise, according to a search warrant filed in Broward County in December and made public this week.
Scroggins, who has not been charged with any crime, could not be reached for comment despite efforts to reach him by telephone and at the address listed on the warrant.
Alaska’s Permanent Fund provides a tempting target for identity thieves, said Imes, because residents apply for it online, make changes online, and only notice banking activity from it once a year. In 2019, the dividend paid $1,606 to each resident.
Last year, one dividend thief was traced to Alabama. The culprit was extradited to Alaska and convicted of fraud, Imes said.
Imes confirmed that Scroggins is the target of the ongoing investigation, but he declined to say whether anyone else is a suspect.
If Scroggins or anyone else is charged, it’s not clear whether it would be in Alaska, South Florida or federal court.
According to the warrant, Imes said he found evidence that Scroggins also was receiving money from “fraudulent State of Illinois Unemployment Benefits claims.”
The warrant Imes filed listed the Sunrise Police Department, the Broward Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Labor as agencies involved in the investigation.
Tracking the operation to South Florida was laborious but not complicated, according to the warrant. Each change appeared to be made from the same computer, with the funds sent to the same few prepaid American Express and Metabank accounts.
“An examination of all of the available data ... tended to suggest to me that this had all been conducted by one individual,” he wrote.
The cards were assigned to at least five different names, but in late August, two withdrawals were made from different cards within one minute of each other at a Wells Fargo bank in Sunrise. The security camera on the ATM showed both withdrawals were made by Scroggins, Imes wrote in his search warrant application.
Investigators searching Scroggins’ apartment found two laptops, two iPhones, credit cards, checks and bank statements.
It was not clear Thursday how the identity thief or thieves obtained the account information of the Alaska victims. Imes said the investigation is continuing.