Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Business

International identity theft ring victimized hundreds, including Hollywood actor, authorities say

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Federal agents said they have uncovered a massive international identity theft scheme that victimized hundreds and maybe thousands of people, including an actor who appeared in the TV shows Smallville and Supergirl.

Federal authorities arrested two people in Virginia and two people in Georgia on Thursday as part of a sophisticated operation they say involved stealing identities and producing fake shell companies that could apply for high-balance credit cards.

The sprawling conspiracy involved many millions of dollars, authorities say, though after two years of investigation they think they have only scratched the surface. Court documents say the group would bill credit card companies for payments to its own shell companies, then route the money through various entities and sometimes out of the country.

Organized under the umbrella "the Deutche Group," the conspiracy extended to India, Thailand and the United Kingdom. Prosecutors are asking any potential victims to come forward and help illuminate the scope of the scheme.

The conspirators would advertise jobs for Deutche Group on Craigslist, according to authorities, and then steal the personal information applicants gave them. They also set up online companies offering airfare and hotel deals, according to court filings, then pocketed the funds and used stolen credit cards to book the travel. Some travelers were stranded partway through vacations when their itineraries were canceled due to fraud alerts.

When such fraud alerts led credit card companies to challenge charges, the group used digitally created images of credit cards and passports to back up their spending, authorities say.

One such passport allegedly used an image of actor Laura Vandervoort taken from a scene from the television show V involving visas. An FBI agent who was a fan of Smallville immediately recognized Vandervoort's photo, authorities said, and the image helped authorities lock down a time frame for the creation of the fake passport and illuminated some of the group's digital maneuvering.

According to the charging documents, the group even set up its own bank in India and attempted to join the Visa network so it could approve its own fraudulent transactions.

Amit Chaudhry of Ashburn, Va., was arrested Thursday. He is accused of masterminding the U.S. operations. According to prosecutors, his siblings and other relatives and associates in India helped steal identities and create shell corporations. To date, prosecutors have identified 353 fake companies associated with the scheme.

Prosecutors say a New York woman who questioned charges to her credit card first alerted them to the group, which they think has been operating since at least 2012.

Jacqueline Green of Woodbridge, Va., was also arrested Thursday and charged with wire fraud. Green appears to have met Chaudhry through her job at the government information technology contractor ActioNet. Chaudhry was running his own Ashburn-based company called Know­ledge Center, which authorities say did both legitimate IT training and supported his illegal activity. According to prosecutors, Green would overbill or fraudulently bill her company for training provided by Chaudhry's firm.

If convicted, Chaudhry and Green face up to two decades in prison, as well as significant fines. The defendants arrested in Georgia, Sudhakar Jha and Tanav Jha, have a detention hearing set for next week and authorities said they will then be brought to Virginia to face trial.

Other perpetrators, authorities said, have fled to India.

People who think they may have been affected by this alleged fraud should submit their complaint online at www.ic3.gov and include the keyword "CCTRAVELVICTIM" in the "Description of the Incident" field.

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