Consumer Alert: Couple uses disabled woman, disaster to scam people

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, the largest environmental disaster in U.S. History, was also an opportunity for con artists. Some scammers seized the moment to make an easy fortune.

"Leslie called one day saying someone had taken her identity and accused her of doing things she hadn't done," says fraud victim Laine Silverfield.

Laine's only sister, Leslie, was disabled and Laine took care of her.

"It turned out someone had used her identification in a fraudulent activity, saying she was a tattoo artist and she was no longer able to be in business," Silverfield says.

Leslie was not a tattoo artist or small business owner.

"This couldn't be true. Unfortunately, Leslie couldn't leave the city where we lived. She had limited use of her hands and no use of her legs," says Silverfield.

Joseph Harvey and Anja Kannell Harvey, a husband and wife team of con artists, had stolen Leslie's identity and filed a false claim that her business had been closed by the BP oil spill.

"As a caregiver, let me tell you, it is a stressful for the people for whom you are taking care of. Their lives are very difficult lives and they are fragile people, then to have this beast of burden on their shoulders is really, really hard," says Silverfield.

Postal inspectors say Harvey and Kannell were serial storm chasers.

"They were chasing storms throughout the country. Anytime there was a storm and some type of federally funded program established they would basically attack that program," says U.S. Postal Inspector Claudia Angel.

Following the BP oil spill, the two scammers stole the identities of 115 people and filed false claims worth $700,000.

"The two supported a lavish lifestyle; they drove Bentleys, they drove Mercedes Benz, they had yachts, a 47-foot cruiser, they had another smaller one, they had mansions and rental mansions," says Angel.

Inspectors have an idea where they got the names.

"Possibly a hospital, a clinic, because there was a link between the victims that seemed to have visited hospitals throughout that time period," says Angel.

Do everything you can to protect your personal information.

"Growing up, we learned the only thing you really have is your good name and now a criminal has taken it," says Silverfield.

Harvey and Kannell were convicted and each sentenced to 13 years in prison. They were also ordered to pay $440,000 in restitution to the victims and $440,000 to the U.S. government.

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