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‘Like a heavy anchor, he’s taken his entire family down’: Operator of credit repair business and 7 relatives sentenced in $3.4 million identity fraud case

If you can’t trust your family, who can you trust?

The operator of a North Carolina credit repair business has been sentenced to more than eight years in prison for creating fake police reports to clean up his clients’ bad credit and enlisting his family to help run a $3.4 million credit card fraud scheme at Lowe’s LOW, +0.55%.

Michael Griffin, 53, involved seven relatives in the credit card scam, including his wife, daughter, two brothers and three sisters, one of whom was an online pastor. The scheme involved the creation of “synthetic identities” that relied on the stolen Social Security numbers of children, prosecutors said.

“Like a heavy, heavy anchor, he’s taken his entire family down,” U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle said at Griffin’s sentencing on Wednesday, according to the Raleigh News & Observer

All of Griffin’s relatives pleaded guilty in the case in October and were sentenced to as much as 14 months in prison.

A message left with Griffin’s attorney wasn’t immediately returned.

False police reports

The probe into Griffin began in 2019 when authorities charged him with filing false police reports with credit rating agencies stating that his clients — some of whom had paid $3,000 for his credit repair services — had been the victims of identity theft. The ruse often worked and Griffin’s clients were unaware of what he had done, according to court documents.

Prosecutors say Griffin had run this scam on behalf of nearly 600 clients of his credit repair business. 

After he had been charged, the case expanded after investigators determined that Griffin had engaged in something called synthetic identity theft, where a stolen Social Security number is paired often with a fake name, thereby creating a false identity.

Prosecutors say Griffin at some point used such a false ID to obtain an auto loan to purchase a 2018 Hyundai Genesis for $73,000. 

The scam then expanded into credit card fraud. Griffin was accused of enlisting his family members to help apply for dozens of Lowe’s credit cards issued by Synchrony SYF, +1.23% Bank, using synthetic identities, prosecutors said.

Messages left with representatives for Synchrony and Lowe’s weren’t immediately returned. 

Investigators say Griffin would then max out the accounts to purchase prepaid cash cards and then walk away from the credit card. Prosecutors say Griffin also scammed other financial institutions through a similar ruse.

Griffin pleaded guilty to fraud in August and was sentenced Wednesday to 100 months in federal prison. He was also ordered to pay $400,000 in restitution.

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