What began as a case of stolen identity for one Santa Clara County official has snowballed into a scam targeting immigrant residents.
Santa Clara County Deputy Counsel David Campos has been dealing with identity theft for several months, and the alleged culprit is a familiar face. Campos said he’s speaking out to prevent the perpetrator from continuing to use his identity to scam vulnerable communities into paying for legal services.
“A lot of people can find out where I have worked, what I have done… It’s the peril of being public officials,” Campos told San José Spotlight. “The hardest part of it is the fact that (the criminal) has used my good work and my good name to harm the very people that I’ve tried to help.”
Campos is currently vice chair of the California Democratic Party, a former San Francisco supervisor and former Santa Clara County deputy executive. He said he learned his identity had been stolen from a friend last December, who heard he was doing work for a Bay Area-based employment firm. Campos said he hasn’t privately practiced law for decades, and after digging on his own uncovered someone had successfully applied for work using his credentials and law license number.
“They interviewed that person by phone and they just assumed (it was me). Why would someone try to impersonate me?” Campos said. “They hired this individual and in fact, shared client files (with) the individual.”
Campos said he thought it was an isolated incident and reported it to law enforcement and the State Bar of California. Then he got another call mid-January, this time from a Los Angeles-based law firm. Representatives said his impersonator had been calling clients and attempting to steal them. He said the firm suspected Benjamin Castaneda, who was previously let go from a position there, and falsely claimed Campos was his attorney in a lawsuit that resulted in a monetary settlement.
Campos said Castaneda was a former intern during his time as a San Francisco supervisor from 2008 through 2016 and was let go due to performance issues. Campos said Castaneda faced charges in 2014 for threatening another public official and fled to Mexico. Campos said ongoing investigations revealed Castaneda is in Mexico and is likely scamming people from the country.
“You think you’re okay, but it’s always in the back of the mind: Is this individual going to come back?” Campos said. “I never thought that he would go to this extent.”
Cynthia Sumida, spokesperson for the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, said anyone facing identity theft or scams related to identity theft should report it to authorities immediately.
“Identity theft is a serious problem in our community and communities across America where people have their personal information used by criminals to buy things on credit, take out loans, steal money from bank accounts and more,” Sumida told San José Spotlight.
Campos said he decided to go public about his identity being stolen after receiving calls from Spanish-speaking residents last month. They claimed they had sent Castaneda, posing as Campos’ representative, hundreds of dollars for legal services. For Campos, a former undocumented immigrant who’s served the population for years, hearing from those victims was too much, he said. More than 20,000 Santa Clara County immigrants became citizens last year.
“It’s really upsetting,” Campos said. “I’ve dedicated so much of my life to helping some of the most vulnerable communities… These are the very communities that he’s targeting to exploit and to steal from.”
One of those victims is Ruby Mora, who works in the delivery industry. She needed help with a contract and found Castaneda, who she thought was Campos, via email. When she called to speak to the impersonator last month the number was disconnected, she said. Mora found Campos’ number and called him. That’s when she realized she had been scammed out of $700. Mora said she’s worried about her personal information being stolen and hopes others learn from her situation.
“My feeling is disappointment,” Mora told San José Spotlight. “This person (doesn’t) have any consequences. He continues to scam.”
Campos said worrying about safety is a part of being a public official. But the situation is still ongoing and he worries for his family, coworkers and other potential victims.
“I hope they catch him,” he said. “I hope they find him because not only is he hurting me, but he’s defrauding people.”
Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.
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