Tags: Feds | Crack | Largest | Theft | Ring | U.S. | History

Feds Crack Largest ID Theft Ring in U.S. History

Monday, 25 November 2002 12:00 AM

Authorities in New York announced the arrest of one insider, Philip Cummings, who worked for a company that supplied banks with consumer credit information.

Another suspect, Linus Baptiste, also has been arrested, and a third suspect, Hakeem Mohammed, has pleaded guilty in related cases, the U.S. attorney's office said.

The government estimates the scheme cost consumers more than $2.7 million. The extent of the loss is still being determined.

Banks accounts were wiped out, credit cards have accumulated tens of thousands of dollars in illegal debt, address records changed and identities stolen as part of the scheme, the government charged.

In a complaint unsealed Monday, the United States charged Cummings with wire fraud and conspiracy for his alleged participation in the massive scheme that spanned nearly three years.

The complaint said Cummings worked at Teledata Communications Inc., a company in Long Island that helped banks and other institutions use computers to obtain consumer credit information from the three commercial credit history bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

TCI provided software and other computerized devices to its client companies that enabled them, through the use of confidential computer passwords and subscriber codes, to access and download credit reports of consumers for legitimate business purposes, the U.S. attorney's office said.

The complaint said Cummings worked at TCI from about mid-1999 through about March 2000 on the help desk to aid clients.

As such, he had access to these companies' confidential passwords and codes, authorities said. With these codes, he had the ability to access and download credit reports himself, according to the complaint.

Starting in early 2000, Cummings agreed, for money, to provide credit reports to an unnamed co-conspirator who is now a cooperating witness in the investigation, officials said.

The witness knew individuals who were willing to pay up to $60 a credit report, and offered to split that money with Cummings, the complaint alleges.

Thereafter, the unnamed confidential witness dealt with 20 or more people in the Bronx and Brooklyn, who would bring lists filled with names and addresses and Social Security numbers, and would ask the witness to provide credit reports in those people's names.

They would then pay him $60 for each credit report that he was able to provide to them, and the witness would in turn split that money with Cummings, according to the complaint.

At some point in 2000, Cummings moved to Georgia but allegedly ensured that the scheme could continue by traveling to New York to download credit reports for the unnamed associate, later giving a pre-programmed laptop computer to the witness to download reports. He also allegedly taught the witness how to access the credit bureaus and download the reports and access all three credit bureaus.

One company whose confidential TCI password and subscriber code were allegedly misappropriated in the scheme was Ford Motor Credit Corp. at its branch in Grand Rapids, Mich., the government said.

That branch's password and code were used for approximately 10 months to download approximately 15,000 credit reports from Experian, according to the complaint.

Ford only discovered the scheme after reviewing bills sent by Experian for those credit histories and receiving numerous complaints from consumers who had been the subject of identity theft and fraud, the government said.

After searching its databases, Experian found the passwords and subscriber codes of Washington Mutual Bank in Florida and Washington Mutual Finance Co. in Crossville, Tenn., had also been compromised, resulting in approximately 6,000 more credit reports for consumers being improperly downloaded.

According to the complaint, Equifax determined that the password and subscriber codes for Ford's Decatur, Ill., branch had been used improperly to download 1,300 credit reports from its databases in September and October 2002.

The passwords and codes of Washington Mutual Finance's branch in St. Augustine, Fla., were used to download another 1,100 credit reports, the government said.

More than 4,000 additional credit reports allegedly were downloaded using the passwords and codes of six more institutions: Dollar Bank in Cleveland; Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center in Illinois; Personal Finance Co. in Frankfort, Ind.; Medical Bureau in Clearwater, Fla.; Vintage Apartments in Houston; and Community Bank of Chaska in Chaska, Minn.

The complaint charged that Central Texas Energy Supply's codes were used improperly to download approximately 4,500 credit reports from TransUnion in September 2002.

In a related case, Baptiste was arrested Oct. 29 on a wire fraud charge related to the Cummings case. According to that complaint, phone numbers registered to Baptiste's residence were used to dial into Equifax's databases and download 400 to 600 credit reports in August 2002 as part of the scheme. Credit reports, laptop computers and a document bearing Cummings's name were found in Baptiste's home, authorities said.

In a related case involving fraud against several victims, a defendant using the name Hakeem Mohammed was charged in July with mail fraud in connection with an address change made to a line of credit opened by two of the Ford victims and the opening of accounts and lines of credit in the names of two other Ford victims.

Mohammed entered a guilty plea to mail fraud and conspiracy charges in October and is scheduled to be sentenced in January.

If convicted, Cummings faces up to 30 years in prison and a fine of $1 million, or twice the pecuniary gain or loss resulting from the offense, on the charge of wire fraud. Cummings faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the conspiracy charge.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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Authorities in New York announced the arrest of one insider, Philip Cummings, who worked for a company that supplied banks with consumer credit information. Another suspect, Linus Baptiste, also has been arrested, and a third suspect, Hakeem Mohammed, has pleaded guilty...
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2002-00-25
Monday, 25 November 2002 12:00 AM
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