Authorities Saturday urged possible victims of a woman suspected of being a prolific identity theft suspect who met her victims through dating and home rental websites to contact them.
Maria Christina Johnson “has no legitimate source of income and lists her occupation as a dog trainer, yet appeared to live the high-dollar lifestyle … entirely off stolen identities,” Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sgt. Kevin Duncan said.
The 43-year-old Johnson has felony convictions for fraud dating back to 1997, Duncan said. She is also known as Maria Hendricks, Gia Hendricks, Maria Christina Gia, or Maria Hainka, according to Duncan.
Johnson was born in Washington state, where her first felony convictions were, along with Oregon.
“She drifted southward and, in 2008, commenced an arrest record in California,” Duncan said.
Johnson served a prison sentence for convictions from a case out of Torrance that included 11 felony counts of identity theft, grand theft and credit card fraud, Duncan said.
During the task force investigation that resulted in the current charges, detectives determined that Johnson’s mode of operation was “to capitalize on her physical attraction and meet victims through well-known dating websites and home rental websites,” Duncan said.
“Once (she) gained access to a victim’s home, she located their personal identifying information and opened lines of credit without their permission,” Duncan said.
“She would change their mailing address and assume the victim’s identity. Once she gleaned information about the victim’s personal connections, she moved on to steal the identities of their relatives and friends.”
After assuming an identity without permission, Johnson moved into high- end hotels and charged thousands of dollars worth of goods and services,” Duncan said.
“During one hotel stay … Johnson even brazenly attempted to purchase an automobile,” Duncan said.
Task force members learned on April 28 that Johnson was staying at the The Biltmore in Santa Barbara in the name of one of her victims, Duncan said.
Task force detectives contacted the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department and informed them of the circumstances surrounding the investigation. Santa Barbara County deputies responded to the hotel and detained Johnson.
“Investigators would later learn during initial investigation into (her) stay there, losses she incurred were over $100,000, and total losses in that fraud case may be more than $250,000,” Duncan said.
Johnson was booked at the sheriff’s Malibu/Lost Hills Station on two felony arrest warrants out of Los Angeles County. She was being held on $2 million bail, Duncan said.
Johnson was initially booked under one of her aliases — Maria Hainka, according to Los Angeles County jail records. She is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday in Van Nuys Superior Court, according to jail records.
Anyone with information on the investigation, or who may have victimized by Johnson, was urged to call Detectives Ned Russell or Duane Decker at (818) 576-8884. Tipsters wishing to remain anonymous should call Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-TIPS.
The investigation was conducted by personnel from the Southern California High Tech Task Force which is run by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and includes personnel from the Los Angeles Police Department, the FBI, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
—City News Service
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