Thursday, May 21, 2009

International Credit Card Ring Busted

Netted $12 Million in Past Year Alone

By Conor Greene

A crime ring based in Queens that stretched across the globe has been dismantled, authorities announced at a press conference last week.

Nearly four dozen individuals have been charged following a 21-month investigation, announced Queens District Attorney Richard Brown and NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly. The ring, which was comprised of three separate identity theft and credit card forgery groups that employed multiple cells, allegedly stole personal information from thousands of American and Canadian customers.

The ring’s activities are believed to have cost the victims, as well as financial institutions and retail businesses, more than $12 million in loses over the past year alone. “Our investigation reveals that – in terms of just the sheer number of people indicted – this is one of the largest identify theft networks uncovered in recent history and is just possibly the tip of a much larger global credit card trafficking operation,” said Brown.

A total of 45 individuals have been charged with being members or associates of three organized criminal enterprises that operated in Queens County and elsewhere, systematically scheming to defraud thousands of unsuspecting consumers and financial institutions including Citibank, Bank of America, Chase and HSBC.

According to the charges, suppliers fraudulently obtained credit card accounts and then sold them over to leaders of the identity theft cells. The cell leader would have forged credit and identification cards manufactured before distributing the phony credit cards to the ring’s foot soldiers and shoppers who actually accessed the accounts.

The foot soldiers generally accessed the accounts using ATMs and bank tellers. While using an ATM was less risky, there was usually a limit as to how much could be withdrawn at any specific time. However, equipped with a forged credit card and fake identification such as a driver’s license, a foot soldier could withdraw up to $4,900at a time from a bank teller. In addition, shoppers were responsible for making purchases, usually high-end electronics with the stolen credit cards. They were also responsible for finding “fences” to buy the electronics from them.

“When these suspects said ‘charge it’ they stole more than cash and goods. They robbed unsuspecting victims of their identities too,” said NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly. “This was a sophisticated crime ring which met its just end through painstaking investigation by NYPD detectives and unstinting support by Queens prosecutors.”

The investigation, dubbed “Operation Plastic Pipe Line” began in September 2007 when officers from the NYPD’s Identity Theft Squad and the District Attorney’s Economic Crimes Bureau launched a joint investigation into the large scale theft of Citibank credit cards and the subsequent use of the cards in Queens and elsewhere. Court-authorized search warrants were executed last week at 17 locations, leading to the recovery of forged credit cards, credit reports, machines used to forge the cards and nearly $100,000 in cash.

“Besides draining the bank accounts of individuals throughout North America, we believe the defendants – some of whom live in California, Illinois, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Toronto – also shipped stolen or fraudulently obtained credit cards to buyers around the world and that purchases were made in such far-off places as Japan, Saudi Arabia and Dubai,” said Brown. “Particularly disturbing is that we have no way of knowing if any of these accounts have fallen into the hands of terrorists and are being used to finance their terrorist activities.”


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