Crime authorities in the US have busted a identity theft operation that they claim has raked in more than $35m (£16.75m).
So far 17 people have been indicted in the investigation, which centered on a midtown Manhattan company called Western Express International. The charges were announced Wednesday by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, following a two-year investigation by the Manhattan DA and the United States Secret Service. They are facing as much as 25 years each in prison. Western Express operated the Dengiforum.com and Paycard2000.com sites.
"The defendants participated in a multinational, Internet-based, criminal enterprise ... dedicated to trafficking in stolen credit card numbers and other personal identifiers," the DA said in a statement.
According to the DA, criminals played a variety of roles in the scheme. Criminals who had access to stolen credit card numbers would be hooked up with buyers via what the DA called "cybercrime service providers." Finally, there were "money movers," who would use digital currencies such as Egold and Webmoney to launder the proceeds.
The defendants would meet on "carder" forums, websites designed to facilitate this type of illicit commerce, the DA said.
In total, the group trafficked more than 95,000 stolen credit card numbers. Authorities have identified more than $4 million worth of credit card fraud with the group, but they say Western Express bank accounts moved more than $35 million in funds over four years. The illegal activity lasted longer than that, the DA states, running from 2001 to 2007.
Last year, two of Western Express's corporate officers received prison sentences after pleaded guilty to illegal cheque-cashing and money-laundering activities.