17 charged in massive ID theft bust

Seventeen people have been arrested in an international ID theft scam.

The operators of a New York business have been charged with running a massive identity-theft and money-laundering operation that raked in more than US$35 million over a four-year period.

In total, 17 people have been indicted in the investigation, which centered on a midtown Manhattan company called Western Express International. The charges were announced Wednesday by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, following a two-year investigation by the Manhattan DA and the United States Secret Service. They are facing as much as 25 years each in prison.

"The defendants participated in a multinational, Internet-based, criminal enterprise ... dedicated to trafficking in stolen credit card numbers and other personal identifiers," the DA said in a statement.

Western Express had been based at 555 Eighth Avenue, in New York, and it operated the Dengiforum.com and Paycard2000.com Web sites. Both of these Web sites were operational on Thursday.

According to the DA, criminals played a variety of roles in the scheme. Criminals who had access to stolen credit card numbers would be hooked up with buyers via what the DA called "cybercrime service providers." Finally, there were "money movers," who would use digital currencies such as Egold and Webmoney to launder the proceeds.

The defendants would meet on "carder" forums, Web sites designed to facilitate this type of illicit commerce, the DA said.

In total, the group trafficked more than 95,000 stolen credit card numbers. Authorities have identified more than US$4 million worth of credit card fraud with the group, but they say Western Express bank accounts moved more than US$35 million in funds over four years. The illegal activity lasted longer than that, the DA states, running from 2001 to 2007.

Last year, two of Western Express's corporate officers received prison sentences after pleaded guilty to illegal check-cashing and money-laundering activities.

The Secret Service referred questions on this case to the Manhattan DA's office. DA representatives did not return calls seeking comment.

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