New York authorities say they’ve charged 111 individuals, including financial institution workers, in a massive identity theft and fraudulent credit card scheme that robbed financial institutions, retailers and consumers of more than $13 million over a 16-month period.
The defendants, comprising five organized crime rings based in Queens County, New York with ties to Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, allegedly stole account information via card skimming devices in financial institutions, restaurants and stores.
They then produced counterfeit credit cards, which they used to make high-end purchases such as luxury hotel stays, private jet rentals and designer merchandise that they later re-sold to the public. Authorities charged the defendants in 10 indictments, culminating a two-year investigation known as “Operation Swiper.”
In an Oct. 7 announcement made by the Queens County District Attorney’s Office, District Attorney Richard A. Brown calls the indictments the “largest identity theft takedown in U.S. history.”
“This is by far the largest – and certainly among the most sophisticated – identity theft/credit card fraud cases that law enforcement has come across,” Brown said. “Credit card fraud and identity theft are two of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States, afflicting millions of victims and costing billions of dollars in losses to consumers, businesses and financial institutions.
“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. In some cases, that process can take years.”
Defendants in the scheme also allegedly obtained account information through illegal websites and from unknown individuals overseas. They produced counterfeit credit cards by re-encoding account information onto the magnetic strips of blank credit cards with “reverse” skimming devices and writing or embossing account and security numbers onto cards, authorities said.
In some cases, criminals allegedly placed financial institution artwork and logos onto the cards and created fake government-issued IDs to match cardholder names.
Aiding in the scheme, authorities said, were employees of stores and banks, who stole account numbers and identified high-value victims while in their workplaces. Some defendants allegedly called financial institutions and retailers while posing as cardholders to check the availability of credit.
Authorities said 86 of the defendants are in custody while police are still searching for the other 25. The District Attorney’s Office said nearly two dozen of the defendants have also been charged in connection with several Queens County burglaries and robberies.
In late September, a group of Romanian nationals were arrested in connection with a skimming scheme across several Western states.