Authorities in New York have arrested more than 100 people accused of participating in an identity theft scam that generated $13 million in illicit profits fore crime gains in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, according to a statement from the District Attorney for Queens County.
The accused are alleged to have stolen financial information from consumers in the U.S. and Europe over a 16 month period. The scam relied heavily on trusted insiders within financial and retail businesses to steal information and, in two cases, merchandise from Kennedy Airport and Citigroup, according to a statement Friday.
The scam was wide ranging and reported to be the largest ever in the U.S. Among those arrested were bank tellers, store employees, restaurant workers and others who worked on behalf of the criminal networks to steal financial and identity data. That data was then used to forge credit cards which were, in turn, passed to organized shopping “teams” who engaged in coast-to-coast shopping sprees, buying designer handbags, game consoles and jewelry– all goods that can be easily fenced online and turned back into cash for the scammers.
The teams allegedly stayed at five star resorts and, in some cases, even used the stolen credit card to rent luxury automobiles and even a private jet.
The crack down, dubbed “Operation Swiper” dates to October, 2009, and involved physical surveillance and electronic wiretapping of at least five ring leaders. Imran Khan, Ali Kweiss, Anthony Martin, Sanjay Deowsarran and Amar Singh are alleged by the DA to have received the stolen identity data from a network of credit card skimmers working in bars, restaurants and retail outlets. The ring leaders then worked with an underground credit card manufacturer to produce duplicates of the stolen cards for use in the shopping sprees, as well as forged identity documents.
Identity theft wasn’t the only means employed by the ring. Members also engaged in burglaries and even robbery, including a hold up of the Flushing Savings Bank in Forest Hills, Queens, and theft of cargo containers containing power tool accessories from the Quantas Airways building at Kennedy Airport, and of computer equipment from a building belonging to Citigroup in Long Island, New York.
Though the largest, when measured by the number of people arrested, this isn’t the first large scale identity theft ring to come to light. In September, 2010, the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey charged 53 individuals in a wide ranging identity theft scam there. February, 2011, the Manhattan District Attorney announced 27 indictments stemming from a similar scheme to fence merchandise that was purchased from Apple Stores using stolen credit cards. A California man, Martin Quoc Pham, was sentenced to 11 years in Federal prison for an identity theft ring that targeted home equity lines issued by JP Morgan Chase.
In the wake of the bust, authorities have pointed the finger of blame at credit card companies, who they accuse of investing too much in marketing and not enough in security.