US law enforcement officials arrested 13 people on Tuesday as part of an investigation into a massive credit card fraud scheme that the US Department of Justice said was the largest ever prosecuted.
The Justice Department said amount stolen was still being added up, but 200 million dollars in losses had so far been confirmed.
The scheme was a “sprawling criminal enterprise that stretched across dozens of states and numerous countries.” the FBI said.
FBI and US Postal Inspection Service officials arrested 13 defendants and searched 13 locations in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Each defendant is charged with one count of bank fraud. They were to appear before a US magistrate in federal court. Five other people are named in the complaint.
The defendants allegedly created more than 7,000 identities to obtain about 25,000 credit cards and doctored credit reports to pump up the spending limits on the cards.
“The higher the fraudulent credit score, the larger the loans that the defendants could obtain,” the FBI said. “They would then borrow or spend as much as they could and not repay the debts.”
The defendants used the proceeds to buy luxury cars, electronics, spa treatments, expensive clothing and millions of dollars in gold.
They also stockpiled large sums of cash. Law enforcement discovered approximately 70,000 dollars in the oven of one defendant.
“This type of fraud increases the costs of doing business for every American consumer, every day,” US attorney Paul J Fishman said.
They harmed not only the credit card issuers, but everyone who deals with increased interest rates and fees because of the money “sucked out of the system by criminals acting in fraud rings like this one,” he added.
To run the scheme the defendants allegedly constructed an elaborate network of false identities, maintained more than 1,800 homes used as the mailing addresses of the false identities and created dozens of sham companies that did little or no legitimate business.
The defendants also wired millions of dollars outside the US to Pakistan, India, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, Romania, China, and Japan, the complaint alleges.
The bank fraud count with which the defendants are charged is punishable by a maximum potential penalty of 30 years in prison and a fine of 1 million dollars.