New York City authorities announced a massive series of busts today (Oct. 7) involving the arrests of dozens of people connected to five wide-ranging identity theft and credit card fraud rings.
"This is by far the largest — and certainly among the most sophisticated — identity theft/credit card fraud cases that law enforcement has come across," Queens County District Attorney Richard A. Brown stated in his office's press release.
Eighty-six defendants were arrested in a series of raids earlier this week in New York City, and another 25 are named in indictments. The entire case was called "Operation Swiper."
"Many of the defendants charged today are accused of going on nationwide shopping sprees, staying at five-star hotels, renting luxury automobiles and private jets, and purchasing tens of thousands of dollars worth of high-end electronics and expensive handbags and jewelry with forged credit cards that contained the account information of unsuspecting consumers," Brown said.
The five groups allegedly obtained batches of credit-card numbers stolen either online or by "skimmers" who worked in bars, restaurants, retail stores or other businesses where employees handled customer credit cards. Blank cards were allegedly shipped in from China, Russia and the Middle East, and were converted in Queens to be passable copies of the originals.
Armed with the duplicated cards, "shoppers" would allegedly fan out to upscale shopping malls in the New York area, racking up thousands of dollars in pricey purchases, including gaming consoles, designer accessories and Apple products. Police said the ill-gotten goods would be sold at a discount to a fence — someone who buys dubiously obtained stolen merchandise — who would sell them again on the open market.
"Even after the culprits are caught and prosecuted, their victims are still faced with the difficult task of having to repair their credit ratings and financial reputations," Brown said. "In some cases, that process can take years."
In some cases, legitimate citizens allegedly aided the gangs. One lawyer is accused of advising a gang how to commit new crimes without being caught, and allegedly received expensive designer shoes as payment.
An owner of a security company allegedly gave a gang his company credit-card information and let them rack up $50,000 in purchases before he called the card provider and declared the card stolen. And one defendant's mother is accused of providing a false alibi for him by logging onto his Facebook account.
Some of the gangs apparently branched out into physical theft as well. One crew is accused of stealing $850,000 in computer equipment from the Citigroup Building in Long Island City, Queens, with the alleged collusion of a security guard; another group allegedly stole $95,000 in power tools from John F. Kennedy International Airport; a third plotted to rob a bank but was foiled when their wiretapped conversations were overheard by police.
The gangs were allegedly connected by overlapping memberships and shared fences and "shoppers." But the ethnic diversity is amazing — the 111 defendants named in the indictments have Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Russian, Spanish and Polish names, with a few Anglo ones tossed in as well. Police had to have recordings translated from Arabic, Russian and Mandarin Chinese.
"This is a once-a-year kind of bust. These are the biggest enterprise-corruption cases we've seen," a bail bondsman told the New York Post, which broke the story Friday morning.
The defendants show "the diversity of Queens," he said.