Exclusive: Million dollar ID theft operation busted
PHILADELPHIA - April 20, 2011 (WPVI) -- The Justice Department says it has busted an identity theft operation that cost a lot of people a lot of money.
Investigators say 44-year-old Anthony Williams was the ring leader.
A federal indictment charges him and 15 others with a massive identity theft operation that victimized hundreds of people over three years, looting them of upwards of a million dollars.
And they allegedly had inside help.
Courtney Carr and Brian Wright were tellers at Citizens Bank.
Jennifer Pearson worked for Penn Mutual Life Insurance.
The government says they sold customer information to Williams.
"He was the one who actually compromised the accounts, contacted either the credit card issuer or the banks and got either credit cards issued in other people's names or checks sent to addresses he identified as the new address on the account," Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Costello said.
Armed with new credit cards and personal checks, they went shopping.
One of them allegedly got more than $12,000 worth of merchandise at a Home Depot.
But, mostly they headed to the King Of Prussia Mall for high ticket items.
"That tended to be a good place to go because they could spend a lot of money quickly in one day before the person would find out," Costello said.
On one outing, one of the defendants allegedly charged over $1,000 worth of merchandise at Nordstrom, almost $3,000 at Louis Vuitton, and almost $1,700 at Hugo Boss.
He also made stops at Citizens Bank and Sovereign Bank where agents say he got $6,200 in cash advances.
The accused thieves hit accounts at almost every major bank in the Delaware Valley.
They drained their victims' bank accounts as quickly as possible.
They allegedly used six checks over five days to withdraw $32,000 from one victim's account.
Authorities say they also got thousands of dollars worth of cash advances at Harrah's Casino in Chester.
Police say the scam isn't new for Anthony Williams.
He's in jail in Atlantic City right now facing trial for allegedly running a similar operation at the casinos.
Citzens Bank says it has cooperated with the investigation, fired the employees, and has worked to restore its customers' lost money.
Penn Mutual says it fired Pearson when it became aware of the thefts and has worked to tighten security.
Federal agents are still in the process of rounding up all 16 suspects. But, they warn, this isn't the end of it and we all need to keep a close eye in our credit card and bank accounts.
Penn Mutual Response
At Penn Mutual we are committed to protecting the personal information of our policyholders. Accordingly, we are angered and deeply disappointed that a former Penn Mutual employee unlawfully accessed personal information from our records and disclosed some of that information to others. We immediately fired the employee when we learned about the conduct. Penn Mutual referred this former employee to the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania for prosecution and we are working with the authorities on this matter. We will fully cooperate further in any related prosecution. We have identified policyholders whose personal information was accessed by the former employee. Although we do not know whether any of these clients' personal information was actually disclosed or misused by the former employee, as a precautionary measure we contacted these clients and offered them the opportunity to enroll in free credit monitoring. We cannot comment further on the investigation or any prosecution.
Citizens Bank Response
"We have worked closely with the investigation since we initially reported our suspicions to the federal authorities. We also have reached out to the small number of our customers who were affected by this, made them whole, and taken steps to help them ensure the security of their information going forward."
philadelphia, pennsylvania, identity theft, crime, david henry
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