PHILADELPHIA — An AWOL soldier's simple scheme to defraud one of the richest men in the world has landed him in federal custody, according to a criminal complaint.
In the complaint unsealed Monday, federal investigators allege Brandon Lee Price changed the address on a bank account held by billionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, then had a debit card sent to his Pittsburgh home so he could use it for payments on a delinquent Armed Forces Bank account and personal expenses.
Price called Citibank in January and changed the address on an account held by Allen from Seattle to Pittsburgh, then called back three days later to say he had lost his debit card and asked for a new one to be sent to him, an FBI investigator wrote in a criminal complaint filed in February.
The card was used to attempt a $15,000 Western Union transaction and make a $658.81 payment on the Armed Forces Bank loan account the day it was activated, according to the complaint. Surveillance footage also captured him attempting purchases at a video game store and a dollar store, authorities alleged.
Investigators found Price was listed as Absent Without Leave from the Army and wanted as a deserter, authorities said in the complaint. He was arrested March 2 and ordered detained until April 2 unless the Army takes him into custody.
David Postman, a spokesman for Allen, said the fraud was detected by the bank, who alerted law enforcement officials. The only transaction — out of four listed in the complaint totaling $15,936.99 — that apparently made it through was the loan payment, Postman said.
While the financial loss is comparatively small, it shows the importance of the issue of identity theft prevention.
"Clearly, it's a reminder that anyone can be a victim of this," Postman said.
The complaint doesn't specify how Price allegedly changed the address on the account.
A Citibank spokeswoman said the company does not comment on details of security breaches or customer accounts. In a written statement, spokeswoman Catherine Pulley said the company "identified the actions of a fraudulent account takeover and turned the matter over to law enforcement" and "will continue to work with law enforcement in the ongoing investigation."
An email to Price's public defender wasn't immediately returned, nor was a voicemail left at a phone number for Price listed in the complaint.
Allen made the bulk of his fortune founding Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975. He left the company in 1983 and now owns the Seattle Seahawks and the Portland Trail Blazers. He is the founder and chairman of Vulcan Inc., the company that manages his business and charitable undertakings. Forbes estimates Allen's net worth at $14.2 billion.
Accounts with other credit card companies may have also been targeted, but none of Allen's other accounts were compromised, Postman said.
"It certainly is a surprise and reason for everyone to make sure that all that stuff is properly cared for and monitored," Postman said.
Just under 280,000 cases of identity theft were reported in 2011, according to the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection. That includes complaints through the Better Business Bureau and state attorney general offices and other law enforcement agencies.
WPXI-TV first reported Price's arrest.
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