Many consumers hand their credit cards over to employees at stores and hotels without thinking twice, but a recent story out of Kansas City could give them pause the next time they do so.
At least two, and possibly more, of the 38 defendants that were indicted as part of the breakup of a multi-million dollar identity fraud ring got the credit card numbers they used to illegally purchase airline tickets from the hotels where they worked. According to the Justice Department, the defendants stole credit and debit card information from thousands of victims and sold the plane tickets they purchased with them at a steep discount. Federal officials say the conspirators defrauded airline companies, financial institutions, merchants and cardholders out of about $20 million.
Four of the accused acquired credit card numbers from places they were employed, the Justice Department said. Two worked at hotels, another at a bank, and a fourth at a customer call center. The rest of the numbers were obtained by unindicted co-conspirators in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. The information was then used to make purchases close to the departure time to reduce the likelihood that they would be detected. Many of the customers who bought the tickets for prices ranging between $75 and $250 knew they were not legitimately purchased, and some have been charged in the indictment.
Many of the crimes that happened in the U.S. occurred in either Kansas City or Atlanta, the Justice Department said. Some credit card numbers were even stolen out of the mail. There are victims from 27 states, Washington, D.C. and even Saskatchewan.
"This case highlights the importance of the strong working relationships among federal, state and local law enforcement," said U.S. Postal Inspection Service Deputy Chief Inspector Gregory Campbell. "The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is committed to working with our partners to ensure the continued trust people place in the mail and protecting the public from financial victimization by enforcing the laws that defend the nation's mail system from illegal use."
A report on the crime in the Kansas City Star said that the ring operated for almost nine years, beginning in 2001 and ending earlier this year. Paul Ruden, a vice president of the American Society of Travel Agents, told the paper it was surprising that a criminal enterprise could operate over such a long period of time with so many people involved.