Francheska Vega-Collazo lives in Morovis, Puerto Rico, and has never been to Massachusetts or the continental United States.
So she was surprised to find out that her Social Security number was used to rent apartments in Methuen, Lawrence and Chelsea.
The woman who rented them in Vega-Collazo’s name identified herself as Franchezka Vega, 24 — spelling her first name with a “z” instead of an ‘‘s” and dropping the second half of the hyphenated last name.
“Vega” is now in federal custody facing charges of identity theft and misuse of a Social Security number.
Authorities don’t know who she really is — she is identified in federal court records as a “Jane Doe.”
But they think they know what she was up to.
In what has become an all too familiar pattern, authorities say, the apartments were likely rented using stolen identification for purposes of drug trafficking.
While identity theft is widespread across the country, the theft or sale of Puerto Rican birth certificates, Social security numbers and other identification is soaring.
Because Puerto Ricans are American citizens, such identification can be used to more easily obtain entry to the United States and to obtain driver’s licenses, welfare benefits, tax refunds, mortgages and more.
Lawrence Police Chief John Romero said his department has received many identity theft complaints from about stolen identities from people living in Puerto Rico.
“They are people they had never even ventured here to Lawrence,” said Romero. “It’s not surprising. There’s been incidents before like this.”
One notable case involved Carmen Beltre, 48, formerly of Lawrence, an alleged “identity broker” who sold Puerto Rican birth certificates and the corresponding U.S. Social Security numbers.
In January 2012, Beltre was named among 49 other people in an identity fraud scheme that spanned 15 states and Puerto Rico.