BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Business  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
E-Commerce
Economy
Market Data
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Tuesday, 26 November, 2002, 13:05 GMT
FBI busts identity theft ring
Credit card and dollar bills
The FBI in New York has charged three men in connection with what it calls the biggest identity theft case in US history.

The trio have been charged with stealing the personal details of over 30,000 people, using them to empty their victims' bank accounts and burden their credit cards.


The potential windfall was probably far greater than the content of a bank vault, and they didn't even need a getaway car

FBI Assistant Director Kevin Donovan
Prosecutors allege that Philip Cummings, a 33-year-old British citizen, used his helpdesk job at a software firm contracted to credit company Experian to steal 15,000 individual credit reports, as well as many others from other credit rating companies.

Mr Cummings was released on $500,000 bail after appearing at a Manhattan federal court on Monday.

If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison for fraud, and millions of dollars in fines.

'$30 a time'

The data collected by Mr Cummings was allegedly passed to two others, Linus Baptiste and Hakeem Mohammed, for $30 a report.

About 20 others then used the information, prosecutors say.

The New York-based scam went on for three years before the men were caught, according to US Attorney James Comey.

"With a few keystrokes, these men essentially picked the pockets of tens of thousands of Americans and, in the process, took their identities, stole their money and swiped their security," he said.

"So far we have identified more than 30,000 victims, and the numbers are growing every day."

Losses from the scam have been estimated at $2.7m, and could rise further, Mr Comey said.

FBI Assistant Director Kevin Donovan said: "The potential windfall was probably far greater than the content of a bank vault, and they didn't even need a getaway car."

Bin diving

Identity theft has developed into a serious social and legal problem in the US and is rapidly building up elsewhere.

Thieves get hold of basic personal information - names, addresses, dates of birth and so on - and use that information to make fraudulent credit card applications or tap bank accounts.

Much of US officialdom operates by an individual's nine-digit Social Security Number (SSN).

But until recently many states published SSNs and driving licence details, the main concrete form of ID, on the Web or sold the lists to private companies, making identity theft far too easy.

Some go through potential victims' bins, looking for credit card statements whose information they can then use to pretend the card has been stolen and have a replacement redirected to a new address.

Alternatively, shop workers can simply keep the counterfoil from a credit card transaction, using that information to spend at someone else's expense.

Victims have little recourse but to change all their financial affairs.

Some people in the US have found the only way to remove the stain on their credit rating - and the persistent abuse of their identity - is to declare themselves officially dead.

Discredited

In this case, though, prosecutors say the scam was an inside job.

Almost all retailers check their customers' credit ratings through three huge companies, Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.

Their huge databases are a prime target.

Have you been the victim of identity theft or credit card fraud? What precautions have you taken to protect your personal details? Read a selection of your comments below.


I own the company, so it looks like she was getting ready for big time identity theft

Rosetta M Perry, USA
I had a female employee last year who stole all of my pertinent information and started applying for credit at various department stores. I was home ill one day and one department store called to verify my information. I told them I didn't apply for credit. They had everything correct about me but they had a second phone number that was to be used first. That was the woman's cell phone number. I fired her and put a credit alert on file at the credit bureau. I own the company, so it looks like she was getting ready for big time identity theft .
Rosetta M Perry, USA

Once I received my bank statement to find I'd purchased 350 worth of pay-as-you-go BTCellnet minutes. The only place I had used the card was Asda - someone must have picked up my discarded receipt and used the details. Since then I'm very cautious when using cards even at cashpoints. I have a look around before getting my card out. I think I got off lightly compared to some but it opened my eyes and so in a way, I'm thankful it happened.
Barry, UK

I was the victim of a worrying failure of both an online bookstore and an online credit card. Someone purchased some items from the store and entered their credit card details incorrectly. This transposition of numbers corresponded to my card. No checks were made that the number matched the name or address entered and the goods were dispatched. Both companies claim that transaction security is paramount to their operation, yet this was allowed to happen! Incredible.
Paul, UK

I have been 'skimmed' twice - where a shopkeeper runs your card through an unseen and illicit reader as well as the shop's till. They then make their own cards with your identity details on the magnetic strip. Amazingly, both times were during trips to Malaysia, and the new cards were made in Chinese names. The card issuers still put the fraudulent transactions on my normal bill. If they weren't for such unusually large sums, I may have unknowingly paid them. I think the card issuers need to be on top of this crime a lot more, where it's so obvious fraud is occurring. Surely the extra technology/staff needed would be offset by savings in fraud and customer confidence.
Chris, UK

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's John Moylan
"A new form of crime victims are not prepared for"
See also:

26 Apr 02 | Business
09 Mar 02 | Business
02 Dec 02 | Scotland
27 Jun 01 | Business
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Business stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Business stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes