High tech identity theft ring largest in U.S. history

“Operation Swiper” just busted the largest theft ring of its type in U.S. history. The $13 million dollar crime ring was exposed after a 2 year investigation by the New York City Police, primarily centering around selling Apple electronics overseas, according to Reuters. New York City Police Raymond Kelly said at a press conference “The schemes and the imagination of these thieves is mind boggling”, continuing, “These crimes are getting more sophisticated and thieves have amazing knowledge of how to use technology.”

The investigation resulted in the indictment of 111 people from five criminal enterprises in Queens, New York. It involved the use of eavesdropping on various ethnic groups in the area, speaking Russian, Mandarin and Arabic, after using court-ordered wiretaps on dozens of phones and translating the conversations to English.

The haul? $650,000 in cash, $850,000 worth of computer equipment stolen from Citigroup Building in Queens, tens of thousands of dollars of Apple computer equipment, a truck full of electronics, computer equipment, and identity theft equipment, along with a few handguns. The enterprises also had ties to larger syndicates in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and eastern Asia.

The syndicates formed crime rings that would go on “shopping sprees” across the country, frequenting fancy hotels and upscale transportation rentals as they went, using forged credit cards to foot the bill. They hired operators who posed as waiters, service personnel and other staff operating electronic card machines, and feeding the skimmed information to “manufacturers” overseas, who would imprint the information, and the identification cards to go with it.

The thieves preferred such upscale outlets as Nordstrom, Macy’s, Best Buy and Gucci, but had a particular fondness for Apple computer products. Apparently they have wide appeal overseas, and command high prices as well on the overseas market.

Complicated thefts like this highlight the need to increased vigilance on the part of shop owners to identify shady behavior and patterns from their staff. Also, there’s some effort to adopt a similar style credit card as used in Europe, which is embedded with a unique microchip, making it more difficult to fake. Apparently the thieves had gotten quite good at forgeries, with holograms on the identification that would’ve looked like the real thing.

Banks have been making quite a push as of late to stem this kind of criminal activity. Presumably, this will serve a classic case to study to find out ways to beef up security, especially as it relates to spotting fraudulent purchasing patterns, especially if they are correlated with many similar incidents taking place.

Author Cameron Camp, ESET

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