Eighteen people have been charged in what federal prosecutors in New Jersey called one of the largestcredit card fraud schemes ever uncovered by the U.S. Department of Justice, spanning 28 states and eight countries.
“The defendants are part of a massive international fraud enterprise involving thousands of false identities, fraudulent identification documents, doctored credit reports and more than $200 million in confirmed losses,” FBI Special Agent James Simpson said in court records.
According to court records, the scheme involved three basic steps: The defendants allegedly created thousands of fake identities, pumped up the credit histories of those fictitious people and then racked up charges on fraudulently obtained credit cards.
The scam began in 2003 as false identities were used to create credit profiles with major credit bureaus, prosecutors say. Some were completely fictitious; others were created using Social Security numbers matched to someone with the same name. In other instances, fake pay stubs and tax returns were used to get credit cards.
Prosecutors say the accused pumped up their credit worthiness by making small purchases and paying off the charges, enabling them to run up credit lines and make large charges that were never repaid.
By 2012, they had created more than 7,000 false identities to obtain more than 25,000 credit cards. Millions in cash were wired to Pakistan, India, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, China and Japan.
“Due to the massive scope of the fraud, which involved over 25,000 fraudulent credit cards, loss calculations are ongoing and final confirmed losses may grow substantially,” Simpson said.
The proceeds, authorities said, were used for luxury automobiles, electronics, spa treatments, high-end clothing and millions of dollars in gold. Authorities said the fraudsters also stockpiled large sums of case and approximately $70,000 in cash was found in one defendant’s oven.
Though the scheme targeted credit card companies, Paul Fishman, U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, said customers everywhere could feel the impact.
“Through their greed and their arrogance, the individuals arrested today and their conspirators allegedly harmed not only the credit card issuers, but everyone who deals with increased interest rates and fees because of the money sucked out of the system by criminals acting in fraud rings like this one,” Fishman said.
At least eight in the group — Babar Quresh, Muhammad Shafiq, Ijaz Butt, Qaiser Khan, Shafique Ahmed, Muhammad Naveed, Khawaja Ikram and Nasreen Akhtar — have been unemployed since 2008.
Prosecutors identified Qureshi and Shafiq were identified as the group’s ringleaders, and linked Shafiq and his brother, Naveed, to 464 credit cards and nearly $2.6 million in losses. Some of those charged also stockpiled cash. At one defendant’s home, arresting officers found $68,000 in a kitchen oven.
Quereshi alone made a wire transfer of $500,000 last September — and more than $1 million has flowed through one of many personal bank accounts since 2005, the complaint alleges. One has to wonder if this scheme at least partially funded jihad…
According to the complaint and officials, most of the 18 defendants have ethnic ties to Pakistan. Six of them live in New Jersey (including four in Iselin); one in Philadelphia, and the rest in New York. Some of the defendants may be related, officials also said, while adding that the entire scheme had strong ties to Jersey City — including to three jewelry stores on Newark Avenue named Ashu Jewels, Tanishq Jewels and Raja Jewels.