NEWARK, N.J. (1010 WINS/CBS 2) — Federal authorities charged dozens of people Thursday in an elaborate scam that used social security numbers from Asian immigrants to defraud banks, department stores and the government.
Prosecutors in Newark discussed the charges in detail and said that federal agents had rounded up 53 Korean-Americans in the early morning raids. Officials said the scheme spanned New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and California.
Authorities said the suspects were from Palisades Park, Fort Lee and New York City.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said the defendants stole the identities of Chinese foreign workers with valid Social Security cards, obtained drivers licenses and built up the credit under that person’s name. Then, with that high credit, the suspects took out loans and opened up credit cards to purchase high end goods — including homes, luxury cars, and designer shoes.
Fishman said most of the goods — including Gucci shoes, Louis Vuitton bag and Cartier watches were kept, but some had been resold for cash.
Fishman called the entire operation “pretty remarkable,” adding that the schemes were “sophisticated” and “clever.”
Michael Ward, the Newark Special Agent in charge of the FBI in Newark, told CBS 2′s Christine Sloan the stunning scheme started with the defendants using brokers to get hold of Social Security numbers of Chinese immigrants who worked in American territories like Guam.
“There were a pool of accounts that were maintained strictly for the purpose of building credit and they would attach these identities to these various accounts for a period of 2 to 3 months so they could help build a credit history,” Ward said.
The defendants face numerous charges including identity theft and bank fraud.
Authorities said the defendants even ran advertisements in Korean newspapers to recruit potential customers.
Forty-seven defendants were arrested Thursday, another is in state custody and five remain at large.
Officials said none of the Chinese immigrants from the American territories have been charged. However, sources told CBS 2 that some of the Social Security numbers were indeed sold.