2009-05-15 / Top Stories

Far Rockaway Man Nabbed For Forging Credit Cards

A Rockaway man is one of 45 individuals arrested on Thursday for his part in an international forged credit card and identity theft ring based in the New York-metropolitan area and with roots in Nigeria, which, says Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, has been successfully dismantled following the indictment this week of forty-five individuals.

Brown says that the ring - which was comprised of three separate identity theft and forged credit card groups that employed multiple cells - is alleged to have been responsible for stealing the credit cards and personal credit information of thousands of American and Canadian consumers, costing these individuals, as well as financial institutions and retail businesses, more than $12 million in losses over the past year alone.

Brown identified the Rockaway man as Anthony O. Johnson, of 120 Beach 19 Street, who allegedly acted as the Queens Cell Leader and Account Preparer.

Brown said, "Our investigation reveals that - in terms of just the sheer number of people indicted - this is one of the largest identity theft networks uncovered in recent history and is just possibly the tip of a much larger global credit card trafficking operation. Besides draining the bank accounts of individuals throughout North America, we believe that the defendants - some of whom live in California, Illinois, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Toronto - also shipped stolen or fraudulently obtained credit cards to buyers around the world and that purchases were made in such far-off places as Japan, Saudi Arabia and Dubai.

Brown added, "Technological advances have made it increasingly easier to carry out identity theft and fraud - two of the fastest growing crimes in the United States and which afflicts millions of victims and costs billions of dollars in losses to consumers, businesses and financial institutions. In this case, some of the defendants are alleged to have activated consumers' credit cards by utilizing SpoofCards which allow a caller to disguise the telephone number they're calling from and even their voice and gender. From a law enforcement perspective, such cards are anything but a spoof. They are virtually untraceable and can be used by identity thieves and hackers to pose as government and financial entities as a means to unscrupulously obtain personal information from unsuspecting consumers and also by defendants in domestic violence cases to harass their victims."

NYPD Commissioner Kelly said, "When these suspects said 'charge it' they stole more than cash and goods.

They robbed unsuspecting victims of their identities too. This was a sophisticated crime ring which met its just end through painstaking investigation by NYPD detectives and unstinting support by Queens prosecutors."

According to court papers, the defendants have been charged in a series of indictments charging 784 pattern acts with, among other crimes, Enterprise Corruption under New York State's Organized Crime Control Act. They are accused of being members and associates of three organized criminal enterprises that operated in Queens County and elsewhere and that, between April 18, 2008, and April 23, 2009, systematically schemed to defraud thousands of unsuspecting consumers and financial institutions - such as Citibank, Bank of America, Chase and HSBC and a series of Canadian banks - including President's Choice Bank, CIBC, MBNA Canada and Bank of Montreal.

According to the charges, suppliers in the ring fraudulently obtained credit card accounts to be compromised. The accounts included NRI (nonreceived as issued) accounts [accounts where a credit or debit card was mailed to an account holder but was never actually received by the account holder]; accounts that were fraudulently taken over; and accounts that were fraudulently opened.

Once the suppliers obtained the accounts, they would get the accounts prepared so that they could be accessed by leaders of identity theft cells. This was accomplished by turning the accounts over to:

• Account preparers - responsible for activating the accounts, which usually involved placing a phone call to a financial institution and impersonating the account holder by pretending to be calling from the account holder's home phone.

This was accomplished by using a Spoof Card, which allows a person to change the number that appears on the receiver's caller ID and can make a man's voice sound like a woman's and vice versa. The account preparer would also change a PIN number, change the mailing address, add a secondary card user and/or increase the account's credit limit;

• Account maintainers - responsible for paying off accounts in order to avoid fraud detection and increase credit lines. The maintainer would use funds from one account to pay off another account to keep it viable and to steadily increase its credit limit, at which point all the funds from the account would be drained; or

• Account washers - responsible for obtaining as much pedigree information on an account holder as possible so that other account preparers could then use the information to access the victim accounts in order to take over the accounts.

A supplier would then sell the accounts to identity theft cell leaders, who would either pay the supplier a flat fee for an account or a percentage of the funds accessed with the account. Prior to accessing the accounts, the cell leaders would turn the accounts over to a "mill" run by a document manufacturer who would create the forged credit cards and forged identification cards.

A document manufacturer was paid for each dummy credit card and identification card he made. Once a cell leader had the fraudulent documents they were distributed to the ring's foot soldiers and shoppers who actually accessed the accounts.

The accounts the shoppers were given were those that had a high credit limit but no available cash advance. Shoppers were also responsible for finding "fences," who would buy the electronics from them.

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