Authorities in New York say 111 people from five criminal enterprises have been indicted in a scheme described as the largest identity theft case in U.S. history.
The District Attorney's office in Queens issued a statement Friday, saying the scheme involved five criminal enterprises based in the area and having ties to Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Eighty-six people have been arrested, while the others are being sought in the investigation, dubbed "Operation Swiper."
Officials say 10 indictments charge the suspects with stealing the personal credit card information of thousands of unwitting American and European consumers. Authorities say the scheme cost individuals, financial institutions and retail businesses more than $13 million in losses over a 16-month period.
Investigators allege that many of the suspects used forged credit cards to go on nationwide shopping sprees or stay at five-star hotels. Authorities say the defendants rented luxury automobiles and private jets and purchased high-end electronics as well as expensive handbags and jewelry.
Additionally, some of the defendants involved in the identity theft operation are accused of taking part in burglaries and robberies throughout Queens County.
It is alleged that people who worked in restaurants or bars, retail stores or financial institutions would steal credit card numbers by using a skimming device to steal customers' credit card information when the card was swiped for payment. The data was then programmed into the magnetic strips of blank cards. In some cases, artwork from financial institutions would be placed on the blank cards. The stolen data, officials say, was also used to make identification cards to match the name on the forged card.
Investigators say authorities searched several homes and seized items such as computers, electronics, weapons, as well as $650,000 in cash.
They also say the probe involved court-appointed eavesdropping on different telephones and that detectives with language skills spent hours translating conversations from languages such as Russian, Mandarin and Arabic.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.