"These insiders used their positions to gain access to client data, and then sold that data to make money for themselves and their accomplices," said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., in a statement.
All told, the various defendants--charged in five separate indictments--stole information relating to 200 people or organizations, and in many cases used the stolen information more than once. Authorities have accused the defendants of stealing more than $2 million just from financial institutions, including American Express, Chase Bank, Citibank, Discover, and TD Bank. The charges relates to crimes allegedly committed between May 2010 and September 2011.
[ Law enforcement is becoming more aggressive when it comes to cyber crime. Read California Forms Cyber Crime Unit. ]
Authorities said the arrests were part of an 18-month investigation, which remains ongoing. During the course of that investigation, the New York Police Department's Financial Crimes Task Force, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, as well as investigators from other agencies, including the U.S. Postal Service, employed "court-ordered eavesdropping, physical surveillance, computer forensics, and extensive analysis of credit card, banking, and phone records" to trace the crimes back to the accused.
"The checks didn't bounce but they left a bread crumb trail right back to the suspects," said N.Y. Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, in a statement.
According to court documents, members of a cyber crime ring recruited "at least four insiders to steal, sell, exchange, and fraudulently use the stolen personal identifying information of donors, customers, and tenants from the organizations where they worked."
According to court documents, the insiders worked for four different organizations. The insider at the Audi dealer, Roberto Millar, allegedly stole personally identifying information on at least 900 people. Tracey Nelson, a three-year employee of the non-profit United Jewish Appeal-Federation (UJA), allegedly stole personal data relating to hundreds of donors. Nicola Bennett, a compliance officer for AKAM Associates, a residential property management company in New York, is accused of stealing information relating to at least a dozen people. Finally, Karen Chance, a bank teller at a branch of Chase Bank, has been accused of illegally accessing multiple people's bank account details.
According to court documents, after the insiders sold the stolen information to the cyber crime ring, the ring either put the information to use itself, or sold it to other criminals, who used it to create counterfeit checks and commit various other types of fraud. To do so, however, the defendants needed to obtain "valid bank accounts through which the recruiters and their confederates could commit fraud," said authorities. "The recruiters would use their accounts to deposit counterfeit checks or conduct fraudulent monetary transfers."
To make this happen, the cyber crime ring allegedly also recruited two Chase Bank tellers--Mercy Adebandjo and Joanna Gierczack--who helped the thieves conduct fraudulent transactions, while avoiding the bank's anti-fraud and anti-money laundering controls.
Meanwhile, to facilitate rapid withdrawals from the valid bank accounts they'd obtained, the cyber crime ring would allegedly often purchase U.S. Postal Service money orders, using debit cards linked to the accounts. The gang also relied on counterfeit check makers--with payments made out to the owners of the improperly obtained accounts.
In some cases, defendants allegedly used the stolen information to change the contact details for credit cards to an address where one of the defendants, Richard Ramos, a United Parcel Service employee, could intercept the mailings. He then allegedly provided the cards to other defendants, in return for money.
Authorities have also accused some of the defendants of using the stolen personal information to order credit reports for those people. These reports, they said, gave the defendants crucial details for helping to answer security questions when they then attempted to open new accounts or credit cards in the victims' names.
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