Over a year of investigation by the Beverly Hills Police Department (BHPD) has led to the filing of federal charges against a San Fernando Valley man accused of stealing the identities of at least 25 people and draining about $2.6 million from their accounts.
Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles accused Oren David Sela, 35, of three counts of bank fraud, one count of aggravated identity theft, one count of possession of 15 or more unauthorized access devices, one count of unlawful possession of at least five identity documents, and two counts of possession of stolen mail in a previously sealed indictment filed Oct. 6. If convicted as charged, he could face a maximum sentence of up to 75 years in federal prison.
The BHPD’s investigation into the matter began with a report of fraud on April 6, 2022, targeting a local resident identified as A.W., in the indictment against Sela. The victim’s family told officers someone had withdrawn well over $400,000 out of their Bank of America account and deposited it into a separate one that was also under A.W.’s name.
BHPD Det. Eric Bender learned that the application for the fraudulent account listed an address on the 900 block of Westmount Drive in West Hollywood, Sela’s residence at the time. His email address was also linked to the phony account. Notifications sent by Bank of America to that email address attempted to notify the named Bank of America client that “someone on your account switched to a new device by moving the SIM card,” according to the indictment.
While the investigation was still in progress, Sela was stopped by the BHPD on Dec. 21, 2022 while driving a Mercedes-Benz that had been reported stolen. Officers found a total of six banking cards bearing the names of four separate victims, as well as three cell phones.
When police tried to call one of those four victims, identified as M.A. in the indictment, one of the cell phones they seized from Sela rang. When Bender later spoke with that victim’s daughter, he learned that the number officers called had been M.A.’s landline since 1979, and that it had inexplicably stopped working about two years ago.
About $1.88 million had been transferred out of M.A.’s T.D. Ameritrade, Inc. account and deposited into a fraudulent account opened with Fidelity Bank and Charles Schwab Corporation in the victim’s name, according to the indictment.
“Based on my training and experience and my knowledge of this investigation, I believe that this constitutes evidence that Sela ported, or “SIM-swapped,” M.A.’s phone number, likely as part of a broader effort to conduct fraud against M.A.,” U.S. Secret Service Special Agent Derek Van Wang wrote in an affidavit supporting a federal case against Sela.
SIM swapping is the process of reassigning an existing number to a cell phone SIM card, thereby rerouting all further texts and calls. That can allow fraudsters to intercept messages and security notifications intended for their victims.
Evidence gathered by BHPD allowed them to obtain a warrant and search the defendant’s apartment on Dec. 27, 2022. They found a large amount of stolen mail containing victims’ personal information, five genuine California driver’s licenses belonging to different people, seven banking cards linked to confirmed cases of fraud, and statements related to 18 different phony or compromised bank accounts.
Police identified at least 25 victims in Sela’s alleged mail and identity theft scheme, federal prosecutors said. They accused him of using $16,785.58 in stolen funds for the purchase of a watch from Saks Fifth Avenue.
Cameras inside that retailer as well as the Beverly Hills Neiman Marcus showed the defendant using reportedly stolen bank cards to pay for merchandise. Additional surveillance footage showed Sela stealing cards and documents from victims’ mailboxes in the Beverly Hills area.
Despite his arrest in December, investigators allege that he recently attempted to defraud even more people. BHPD Det. Alex Kalé reported that the defendant was seen trying to steal from mailboxes in Beverly Hills on at least three occasions in the last two months, according to the indictment. One of those mailboxes belonged to an elderly man living on Arkell Drive who had been notified that a credit card in his name that he did not apply for was being delivered to him.
The federal public defender assigned to represent Sela could not immediately be reached for comment. The defendant is scheduled to appear at an arraignment hearing at the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building and United States Courthouse on Oct. 30.