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Emory Students Targeted by Suspected Identity Thieves

Maario Coleman of Decatur, Angela Russell of Dunwoody arraigned in scheme.

The following information was supplied by U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates, Northern District of Georgia. The indictment only contains charges, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless found guilty at trial.

A Dunwoody and a Decatur resident have been arraigned for a scheme to obtain thousands of dollars by stealing the identities of Emory law and medical students and applying for loans.

According to a press release from U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates, the indictment charges Maario Coleman, 27, of Decatur, with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, three counts of aggravated identity theft, one count of computer fraud, and one count of tampering with computers and documents.

Angela Russell, 42, of Dunwoody, is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, one count of aggravated identity theft, and one count of tampering with computers and documents. 

“The teamwork of Emory Police investigators, Emory's University Technology Services and school officials, allowed Emory to respond quickly to reports, initiate an investigation and take steps to prevent further fraud against our graduates,” says Emory Police Chief Craig Watson. 

According to Yates, the charges, and other information presented in court:

Coleman obtained lists of students graduating in 2013 by checking university websites and attending graduation ceremonies. Coleman and Russell used that information to obtain the students’ dates of birth and social security numbers from online databases. 

The defendants then used those personal identifiers to apply for post-graduate “bar loans” and “residency loans” at Discover Bank.  

In many instances, Discover required school transcripts before it would approve and fund the loans. Coleman and others used the personal identifiers of the victims to obtain passwords to access Emory’s online portal and order the transcripts. 

The transcripts were mailed to other participants in the scheme, and Coleman then coordinated sending the transcripts to Discover. He also arranged for the loan proceeds to be deposited into bank accounts fraudulently opened in the victims’ names. 

After the loans were funded, other participants in the scheme obtained the funds via ATM withdrawals. The scheme began as early as May, and continued until at least Nov. 6. 

On that date, law enforcement officers, including federal agents, interviewed Russell regarding the scheme. Following the interview, the agents went to a second location, and then returned to Russell’s residence.  When they arrived, agents became alarmed by a large volume of smoke they saw rising from Russell’s apartment. 

After entering the apartment, the agents found Coleman and Russell inside, with fire and smoke coming from the fireplace.The agents put out the fire with an extinguisher and discovered documents and computer equipment, including hard drives and at least one laptop, all either burned in the fire, dismantled or gouged. 

To date, investigators have identified over $200,000 in false loan applications. In addition, over 100 students at Emory and other Georgia universities have had their personal information compromised. The fraud was discovered when several Emory students contacted the Emory Police Department after realizing that their personal information had been compromised. The investigation is ongoing.

Both appeared before Linda T. Walker, United States Magistrate Judge, on Friday. The bank fraud conspiracy and tampering charges each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The computer fraud charge carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison. The aggravated identity theft charges carry at least one mandatory two-year consecutive sentence, in addition to any other sentence imposed. In addition, the bank fraud count carries a fine of up to $1,000,000, and the computer fraud and tampering counts each carry a fine of up to $250,000. 

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