A dozen people have been indicted in America for allegedly fencing more than $1m in smartphones and other kit obtained via hacking and fraud.
Geoffrey Berman, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Angel Melendez, the Special Agent in charge of the New York Office of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations unit, on Thursday announced the charges, which cover fraud allegations from 2014 through the present.
Melendez in a statement said the individuals involved operated in New York, the Dominican Republic, and on the internet. “Their activities left a trail of unsuspecting victims across the United States and cost businesses significant losses,” he said. “They traveled to 30 states to obtain cellphones that were later sold through fencing operations in the Bronx.”
According to the indictment, the crew allegedly focused on breaking into customer accounts at cellular providers, usually to obtain iPhones but also sometimes to acquire iPads, watches, or other gear:
At other times, the scheme involved the creation of fictitious accounts to obtain phones.
Seven of the 12 individuals charged have been arrested – Mario Diaz, Tomas Guillen, Jose Argelis Diaz, Jhonatan Diaz, Eddy Morrobel, Rayniel Robles, and Ronnie De Leon – and five remain at large – Isaac Concepcion Aquino, Joel Pena, Ruddy Sanchez, Michael Roque, and Joandra Tejada Gonzalez.
They’ve each been charged conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
The techniques by which these individuals affected the alleged fraud varied. They included: buying mobile subscriber personal information using Bitcoin; sending phishing links to mobile subscribers to compromise their accounts; fake identification documents presented to retail store salespeople; and social security fraud, which sometimes involved using social security numbers belonging to a person with the same name as the fraudster to acquire phones using the victim’s credit.
To take down the alleged ring, authorities executed a search warrant on a residence in Mt Vernon, New York, on August 15, 2017. Two IP addresses linked with the residence were associated with at least 3,300 cell phone accounts at an unidentified service provider.
The complaint indicates that a former member of the gang, previously convicted of a felony, provided the Feds with details about the residence as part of a cooperation effort to obtain a more lenient sentence.
Six of the individuals charged were present at the time of the raid, the indictment claimed. Items seized under a search warrant included 12 computers, 5 iPads, receipts from Western Union and MoneyGram transactions, evidence of Bitcoin and bank transactions, and several SIM cards.
A 15-minute Spanish-language video on how to commit cell phone fraud was found on one of the computers, along with other information pointing to the involvement of device users in fraud, the Feds alleged. Various Google searches noted by investigators suggest an interest in phone fraud among users of the devices.
One of the charged individuals, Ronnie De Leon, was tracked on a December 2, 2017, trip from Wisconsin to Bloomington, Minnesota, through a license plate reader. His recorded location in Minnesota, according to the complaint, was a 20-minute drive from Roseville, Minnesota, where a fraudulent iPhone purchase was made that same day under De Leon’s name and a fraud victim’s mobile account.
When De Leon was arrested on December 5, the complaint claimed, police saw mobile account change notifications linked to a fraud victim’s account on his home screen, without needing to unlock the device.
Each of the individuals indicted, if convicted, faces a maximum penalty of 20 years for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and two years for aggravated identity theft. ®