As a result of an investigation that began two years ago, police have finally taken down a Queens based crime ring authorities say was operating the largest identity theft scheme in U.S history.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly announced last Friday that 111 people have been indicted for their roles in an international identity theft and counterfeit credit card operation.
The individuals, who were members of five different forged credit card and identity theft rings in Queens and had ties to Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, are charged in ten indictments with stealing credit card information of thousands of Americans and Europeans. According Brown, the group cost its victims over $13 million dollars in losses in the last 16 months. Out of the people charged, 86 are in custody. Authorities are still looking for 25 other suspects.
“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.”
According to Brown, the indictment alleges that the individuals fraudulently obtained credit card account numbers, which they used to forge credit and identification cards. After the counterfeit cards were made, according to Brown, they shipped the cards to teams of “shoppers” who purchased high-end electronics, designer handbags, game consoles and jewelry in New York, Florida, Massachusetts, Los Angeles and other areas of the United States.
Although this wasn’t your typical robbery at gunpoint, Police Commissioner Kelly said that the impacts on the victims were not any different.
“They were robbed,” Kelly said. “We assigned detectives to financial crimes because of the potential victimization is so great, especially as the use of credit cards and their vulnerability to identity theft have grown along with the internet.”
In addition to the identity theft and credit card theft charges, almost two dozen of the individuals are charged with six counts of participating in burglaries and robberies throughout Queens. According to Brown, four of them are charged with conspiring to commit a bank robbery in Forest Hills, while five more are charged with stealing over $95,000 worth of cargo from Kennedy Airport.
Brown said that that the damage that the group did could take years to fix.
“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,” he said. “In some cases, that process can take years.”