Prosecutors call it the biggest identity theft bust in U.S. history. On Friday, 111 bank tellers, retail workers, waiters and alleged criminals were charged with running a credit-card-stealing organization that stole more than US$13 million in less than a year-and-a-half.
"This is by far the largest -- and certainly among the most sophisticated -- identity theft/credit card fraud cases that law enforcement has come across," the Queens County District Attorney's office said in a statement announcing the arrests.
The credit card numbers came from far and wide: from skimming operations in the U.S., where restaurant employees or retail cashiers were paid to steal credit card data from customers; from carder forums on the Internet; and also from shady overseas suppliers in countries such as Russia, China and Libya.
In all, five groups of criminals were targeted in the two-year law enforcement operation, dubbed "Operation Swiper." Together, they ran the full gamut of criminal activities required to steal credit card numbers and convert that data into cash, prosecutors said.
Eighty-six of the defendants are in custody; police are looking for the remaining 25, prosecutors said.
The accused are charged with running a thoroughly modern identity theft ring that included ID thieves, skimmers, card makers, fences and shopping crews: groups that would buy thousands of dollars worth of merchandise in stores throughout the U.S.
"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," the Queens DA office said.
During a raid earlier this week, police seized "a box truck full of electronics, computers, shoes and watches, skimmers, card readers, embossers and various amounts of raw material, such as blank credit cards and fake identifications," the DA's office said.
Six of the accused are charged with stealing $850,000 worth of computer equipment from a Citigroup building in Long Island City last August. Prosecutors say that a former Citi employee, Steven Oluwo, and a security guard under contract to Citigroup, Angel Quinones, helped with the theft.
Apple, Best Buy, Nordstrom, Macy's and many financial institutions, including Citi, Chase Bank and Bank of America, are credited with helping with the investigation.