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Huge identity-theft ring busted in New York, police say

October 10, 2011 |  7:49 am

 ID theft ring

After a nearly two-year investigation, police say they shut down a huge identity theft ring that bought Apple electronics, luxury handbags, shoes and other products using stolen credit card information and then sold the goods overseas.

A total of 111 people have been indicted in connection with the ID theft ring, which New York police are calling the nation's biggest ever to be busted. At least 85 people had been arrested by Friday. The remainder were being sought in "Operation Swiper," which began with surveillance of suspects who centered their enterprise in the New York City borough of Queens.

"The schemes and the imagination of these thieves is mind-boggling," New York's police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, said at a news conference announcing the operation.

The illegal business allegedly hired "skimmers" to steal credit card data from customers at restaurants and other businesses, then the information into blank credit cards acquired from suppliers in Russia, Libya, Lebanon and China. The cards were used by criminal "shoppers" to purchase mountains of electronics equipment and luxury goods, police say.

A total of $13 million in goods was purchased by the five main teams involved in the enterprise. Most of it was then resold overseas.

Kelly said detectives had to translate communications in Russian, Arabic, Farsi and other languages as part of the investigation. Among items seized in the bust were handguns, computer gear and $650,000 in cash. "This is primarily an Apple case," police deputy inspector Gregory Antonsen said, noting that Apple products are easy to sell overseas.

The case is "by far the largest and certainly amongst the most sophisticated identity-theft credit card fraud cases that any of us have ever seen," said Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown.

"These weren't holdups at gunpoint, but the impact on victims was the same," the police commissioner, Kelly, said. "They were robbed."

-- Tina Susman in New York


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Photo: An official of a security company demonstrates how thieves swipe credit card information on a skimming machine. Credit: Valerie Caviness / NYSE Euronext