New York city police on Friday announced the busting of what was described as “the biggest ID scam in American history” after arresting 111 people including Guyanese who allegedly made bogus credit cards as part of
a Queens-based scam that cost consumers, banks
and retailers a whopping US$13 million.
The New York Post reported that the alleged scammers — members of five organized forged credit card and identity theft rings — had ties to Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. At a news conference the NYPD and Queens District Attorney’s office said that the people arrested are charged in 10 indictments with stealing the personal credit information of thousands of American and European consumers, costing the cardholders, financial institutions and retail businesses more than $13 million in losses over a 16-month period.
“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 DA Richard Brown was quoted as saying. Eighty-six of the defendants are in custody, while another 25 are wanted, authorities said.
“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,” said Brown.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the scammers “victimized thousands of Americans, including innocent New Yorkers. They produced reams of fake credit cards. They weren’t holdups at gunpoint, but the impact on victims was the same. They were robbed.”
“These thieves even posted pictures of themselves on social network at sites of high-end hotels and rented cars in high-end villas,” he added, according to the Post. Brown said that more than 90 people connected to the scam have been charged in five indictments charging 784 pattern acts with, among other crimes, enterprise corruption under New York’s Organized Crime Control Act.
He also said they are also accused of allegedly being members and associates of organized criminal enterprises that operated between May 2010 and last month, scheming to defraud thousands of American Express, Visa, MasterCard and Discover Card customers.
According to the indictments, the defendants fraudulently obtained credit card account numbers and then used that to make forged credit and ID cards. Once the counterfeit cards were created, according to the indictments, they were ultimately given to teams of “shoppers” who were sent out on shopping expeditions in New York, Florida, Massachusetts, Los Angeles and other parts of the US to buy designer handbags, video game consoles and jewelry.
The types of goods purchased included iPads, iPhones, Blackberries, Rolex watches, Macbook Pro, Gucci and Louis Vuitton handbags from Nordstrom, Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s.
It is alleged that during the shopping sprees, some of the people used forged credit cards to stay at such five-star hotels as the Fontainbleau and The Royal Palm in Miami Beach and the Las Casitas Village, the high-end private villas of the El Conquistor in Puerto Rico, the Post reported. They are also allegedly used forged credit cards to rent such luxury cars such as Lamborghinis and Porsches and, in one case, a private jet to take them from New York to Florida.
Kelly said ID theft rings are “getting more and more sophisticated” as the years go on, according to the report. “We’re seeing thieves on the cutting edge,” said Kelly. “The schemes and imagination are mind-boggling.”
In an earlier report, the Post said that one of the rings was led by Amar Singh, who was described in court papers as “overseeing the entire operation” — including an army of shoppers and fences to convert high-end goods to cash. Singh is reportedly Guyanese.
Singh allegedly received blank credit cards and account numbers from his contacts and had a whole crew of henchmen to help cash in with the phony plastic. To complete the ruse, the crew allegedly forged identity cards.
The Post reported that sources said that Singh employed his girlfriend, Neaj Punjani Singh, 21, as his top lieutenant — and that she would receive the high-ticket items purchased with the fake cards and funnel the cash through her personal bank account. Both Singhs were held on US$1 million bail, the Post reported.