Authorities charge 53 in N.J. identity theft/bank fraud ring

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The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) on Thursday charged 53 individuals in New Jersey in connection with a widespread identity theft and fraud ring.

The ringleaders operated a criminal enterprise to obtain, broker and sell identity documents, which were used to commit credit card, tax and bank fraud, authorities said.

Members of the operation obtained Social Security cards that were issued to Asian immigrants working in American territories, such as American Samoa, Guam and Saipan, according to a DoJ news release. The stolen Social Security cards were then sold to individuals, the majority of which were of Korean descent. Members of the fraud ring provided their buyers with assistance in using the stolen identities to obtain genuine driver's licenses and other identity documents from various states. They also manufactured counterfeit driver's licenses and other identity documents. Some of the defendants also used the stolen identities to open bank accounts, credit and debit cards, lines of credit and loans.

The criminal enterprise and its co-conspirators caused millions of dollars in losses to U.S. banks, credit card companies, lenders and others, the DoJ said.

“The activity in this instance was a virtual crime superstore, with one-stop shopping for a variety of criminal needs,” FBI Special Agent Michael Ward was quoted in a news release.

Forty-three individuals were charged with conspiracy in connection with the criminal enterprise and 10 were charged with identity theft and fraud offenses, the DoJ said. Forty-seven defendants were arrested Thursday as a result of a coordinated law enforcement investigation, during which an undercover federal agent purchased and obtained Social Security cards, a genuine driver's license and an identification card from Illinois, along with counterfeit Nevada and New Jersey driver's licenses. Meanwhile, one defendant is in state custody on unrelated charges and five remain at large.

Sang-Hyun Park, 44 of Palisades Park, N.J., was the leader of the criminal fraud enterprise, which was headquartered in Bergen County, N.J., according to the criminal complaint. The 43 defendants charged in connection with the fraud enterprise held various roles as identity brokers, members who would built up the credit associated with stolen identities, and collusive merchants who obtained cash by swiping fraudulent credit cards at their businesses. 

The defendants used the cards to purchase high-end products, such as Rolex, Chanel and Louis Vuitton merchandise. The credit card bills ultimately went unpaid, causing significant losses to credit card companies and affected merchants.

“The sheer scope of the fraud – and the organization that allegedly committed it – is remarkable,” U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, was quoted in a news release. “This type of crime puts all of us at risk, not just because of the cost to our financial institutions, but also because of the threat posed by fake identification documents.”

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