Operation Swiper: More than 100 people have been indicted in connection with what may be the largest identity theft crackdown in the country’s history.
The 111 defendants hail from countries all over the world, including places in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, according to the Queens District Attorney’s office. In a total of 10 indictments, the suspects are charged with defrauding financial institutions and retailers of more than $13 million during a 16-month period.
The effort – dubbed “Operation Swiper” – began in October 2009 when police officers began investigating an identity theft ring operating in the South Ozone Park section of Queens. According to authorities, Imran Khan, Ali Khweiss, Anthony Martin, Sanjay (AKA Rocky) Deowsarran and Amar Singh were“bosses” of the ring and received lists of credit card account numbers and various blank credit cards alleged to have come from overseas – unknown individuals in such places as Russia, Libya, Lebanon and China – or from statewide suppliers, such as “skimmers” (individuals who worked in a retail store, bar, restaurant or financial institution and used a skimming device to swipe a consumer’s credit card information) or “Internet suppliers” (who obtained credit card accounts through illegal web sites).
The bosses are accused of sending the stolen account numbers to a “manufacturer” who re-encoded the information onto the magnetic strips of blank credit cards using a “reverse” skimming device. The manufacturer was also responsible for putting the written four security numbers on the front of a credit card as well as the seven security numbers on the back, and putting the account number on the credit card, authorities said. In some cases, it is alleged, the manufacturer also placed the artwork and logos from financial institutions on the blank cards. In other cases, the manufacturer also made phony government identification – such as a New York State driver’s license – to match the name that was on the forged credit card, authorities said.
Once the forged credit cards were completed, according to the charges, they were distributed to crews of shoppers lead by crew leaders. These crews were sometimes aided by collusive store owners or employees who worked within a particular retail store where the shoppers were making their purchases or in a bank where they had access to cardholder information, authorities said.
According to the indictments, the suspects obtained credit card account numbers through various means and then used them to manufacture phony credit and identification cards. The counterfeit cards were then given to teams of “shoppers” who were sent out to cities around the United States to purchase expensive merchandise, from high-end electronics to designer handbags that had either been requested or could easily be fenced and re-sold.
During some of the shopping sprees, the suspects are alleged to have stayed at five-star such as the Fontainbleau and The Royal Palm in Miami Beach, as well as to rent luxurious automobiles as Lamborghinis and Porsches.
Once a shopper made a purchase with the forged credit cards, the merchandise was turned over to a crew leader, who in turn gave the merchandise to the boss of the operation, according to authorities. The boss would then allegedly contact a fence and sell the merchandise to the fence at a discounted price. The fence, in turn, would then allegedly offer the merchandise for re-sale to the public.
Nearly two dozen of the defendants are also charged in six indictments with participating in burglaries and robberies throughout Queens County. Four defendants for example are charged with conspiring to commit a bank robbery in Forest Hills, and five are charged with stealing more than $95,000 worth of cargo from John F. Kennedy International Airport.
“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,” District Attorney Richard A. Brown said in a statement. “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. 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.”
Eighty-six of the defendants are in custody and 25 were being sought as of Oct. 7.