NEWARK – Federal agents in four states arrested 13 people today for allegedly creating thousands of phony identities to steal at least $200 million in one of the largest credit card fraud schemes ever charged by the Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced. A total of 18 people have been charged in connection with the alleged scheme, including four Iselin residents and two other suspects from New Jersey.
The activity described in a complaint unsealed today describes a sprawling criminal enterprise that stretched across dozens of states and numerous countries. The defendants charged in the complaint allegedly fabricated identities to obtain credits cards and doctored credit reports to pump up the spending and borrowing power associated with the cards. They would then borrow or spend as much as they could based on their fraudulently obtained credit history and not repay the debts, looting businesses and financial institutions of more than $200 million in confirmed losses.
This morning, hundreds of law enforcement officers from the FBI and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service arrested 13 defendants and searched 13 locations in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. All of the defendants are charged with one count of bank fraud. The defendants are scheduled to appear later today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Madeline Cox Arleo in Newark federal court.
Among those charged are Iselin residents Babar Quereshi, 59; Sat Verma, 60; Vijay Verma, 45; and Tarsem Lal, 74; Vinod Dadlani, 49 of Lyndhurst, and Nasreen Akhtar, 37, of Jersey City.
“This type of fraud increases the costs of doing business for every American consumer, every day,” Fishman said. “Through their greed and their arrogance, the individuals arrested today and their conspirators allegedly 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.”
“The criminal activity described in today’s complaint highlights the activity of an extensive, sophisticated, organized scheme, executed against U.S. financial institutions, which, in turn, effects every citizen of the United States,” Acting Special Agent in Charge Velazquez said. “This elaborate network utilized thousands of false identities, fraudulent bank accounts , fake companies, and collusive merchants, to defraud financial institutions of hundreds of millions of dollars, in order to facilitate extravagant lifestyles they could otherwise not afford. The arrests today are the result of the relentless and tenacious work of the United States Attorney’s Office, U.S. Postal Inspection, U.S. Secret Service, the Social Security Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and numerous financial institutions.”
According to documents filed in this case:
The defendants and their conspirators stole hundreds of millions of dollars through a scheme repeated thousands of times to create more than 7,000 false identities and fraudulently obtain tens of thousands of credit cards (the “Fraud Cards”). The scheme involved a three-step process in which the defendants allegedly would:
- “Make up” a false identity by creating fraudulent identification documents and a fraudulent credit profile with the major credit bureaus.
- “Pump up” the credit of the false identity by providing false information about that identity’s creditworthiness to the credit bureaus. Believing the furnished information to be accurate, the credit bureaus would incorporate this material into the false identity’s credit report, making it appear that the false identity had excellent credit.
- “Run up” large loans using the false identity. The higher the fraudulent credit score, the larger the loans that the defendants could obtain. These loans were never repaid, and the defendants reaped the profits.
The enormous size and scope of the alleged criminal fraud enterprise required the defendants and others to allegedly construct an elaborate network of false identities. Across the country, the defendants and their co-conspirators allegedly maintained more than 1,800 “drop addresses,” including houses, apartments, and post office boxes, which they used as the mailing addresses of the false identities.
They allegedly created dozens of sham companies that did little or no legitimate business, obtained credit card terminals for the companies and then ran up charges on the Fraud Cards. To accept payments in the form of credit cards, a business must establish a merchant account with an entity known as a merchant processor. The merchant processor provides the business with equipment to process credit cards, receives payments from credit card companies for credit cards run at the business, and deposits those payments, minus a fee, into the business’ bank account. When the merchant processors shut down accounts operated by the conspirators for fraud, they would apply for new terminals and create new companies.
The sham companies also served as “furnishers,” providing the credit bureaus with false information about the credit history of numerous false identities of people who purportedly worked at or owned the sham companies.
The defendants also allegedly relied upon complicit businesses, including several jewelry stores in the Jersey City, N.J., area, to extract money from the Fraud Cards. The complicit businesses would allegedly allow the defendants to conduct sham transactions on the Fraud Cards and would then receive the proceeds from the credit card companies and split them with the other conspirators. These complicit businesses maintained multiple credit card merchant processing accounts at the same time. By operating dozens of accounts, these businesses allegedly furthered the conspiracy by allowing more fraudulent transactions to be processed before the merchant processors shut down the account. The proceeds from these merchant terminals were allegedly deposited into various business checking accounts, and the money was paid out to the owners of the complicit businesses, along with other defendants and conspirators.
The investigation that produced today’s arrests involved cyber crime investigators from the FBI and has been ongoing for more than 18 months. It previously resulted in the arrest of four other individuals and the seizure of more than $2 million in gold from a jewelry store in Jersey City.
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.
The charge and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.