Young People Lured on Social Media to Participate in Huge Counterfeit Check Scheme: Officials

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said the type of scheme is known as "debit card cracking," and it's becoming increasingly common

debit card cracking
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More than three dozen people have been arrested for allegedly luring young people on social media to join a "debit card cracking" scam that netted more than $1 million in cash over four years, authorities say. 

The 39 defendants, who range in age from 19 to 32 and all live in New York, mostly in the city, face varying felony charges including enterprise corruption, grand larceny, conspiracy and scheme to defraud. 

According to court documents, two of the suspects worked for a check-cashing company on Staten Island. They allegedly stole legitimate account information and routing numbers that other members of the group used to create the fake checks. 

Those counterfeit checks were then deposited into bank accounts provided by "complicit account holders," primarily young people recruited on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Those young people were offered money in exchange for their names, birth dates, addresses, Social Security numbers and other information, including the PINS to their personal bank accounts. At least seven banks were involved. 

"The alleged fraud was clever, luring participants in via Snapchat and Instagram. Fortunately, the defendants were not beyond the reach of the NYPD detectives who unraveled this scheme," NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill said in a statement. 

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said young social media users should be wary of similar schemes. 

"Kids on social media who see posts like these -- staged in hot tubs, sports cars, or among piles of cash -- should know that debit card cracking is illegal, and is on law enforcement’s radar," Vance said in a statement. "You will not get to keep the money, and you could end up in jail." 

Ten or so of the defendants, referred to in court papers as "runners," would use the information the "recruits" provided to withdraw funds from their accounts as soon as the counterfeit monies were available, authorities say. One 26-year-old suspect allegedly acted as an enforcer, retaliating against members of the group who didn't play ball. 

According to the indictments, the enforcer coordinated and carried out the robbery of at least one individual who was thought to be withholding money. In total, prosecutors say the suspects deposited more than $2.5 million in counterfeit checks and withdrew more than $1 million from the associated accounts. Officials say they used more than 650 bank accounts over the course of the scam, which lasted from January 2013 through last month. 

Two of the suspects worked for a check-cashing company on Staten Island. They allegedly stole legitimate account information and routing numbers that other members of the group used to create the fake checks. 

The indictments are the result of a joint investigation by the Manhattan district attorney’s Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau and the NYPD. 

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s Asset Forfeiture Unit has also filed civil papers against the indicted defendants seeking the forfeiture of $1,029,863.88 in illegal proceeds gained through the alleged scheme.

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