As almost everything moves online, cases of financial identity theft keep going up and cause havoc for millions.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which tracks consumer fraud and identity theft, says 4.8 million complaints were received in 2020, a 45% year-over-year increase . According to the Alte-Novarica Group, 47% of Americans were victims of identity theft in 2020, costing them $712.4 billion.
Most cases of identity theft are minor and involve a small number of people. This article, however, goes in another direction. Here are some of the biggest fraud cases to date. Most involve millions of dollars and thousands of victims.
the first case involves Brooklyn, NY-based Abraham Abdallah, who was arrested in 2001 for attempted robbery and possession of counterfeit devices. However, unlike everyone else on this list, Abdallah only went after one type of person: celebrities.
For six months, Abdallah used cellphones, delivery services and fax machines to access credit card numbers and celebrity brokerage accounts. Among the 217 accounts he had access to were those of Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey and Warren Buffet.
He attempted to steal over $22 million but was caught before any illegal dealings occurred. He pleaded guilty to wire fraud, credit card fraud and identity theft and served
Abdallah’s case is one of the first to involve identity theft in the digital age. He would have served 11 years in prison before being released.
Turhan Lemont Armstrong
In 2019/20, Turhan Lemont Armstrong was convicted and sentenced to 21 years in federal prison for running a credit card, loan and real estate fraud scheme, according to the United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. The illegal business raised $3.3 million before being shut down.
Armstrong was found guilty on all 51 counts for which he was charged. The criminal and his accomplices stole identities and social security numbers to open bank accounts, credit cards and loans. Unlike similar programs, this one focused on obtaining the social security numbers of children who had left the United States. These people were less likely to check their credit report for the United States.
According to US prosecutors, “[Armstrong’s] criminal conduct was more than a series of bad decisions – it was a way of life. The victims of [Armstrong’s] crimes run the gamut: banks, credit card issuers, car dealerships, utility companies, and people across the country whose identities [he] flew.”
Armstrong was ordered to pay $3,305,609 in restitution as part of his conviction. In addition, two of his houses, purchased with illegal funds, were confiscated.
Responsible at the time of the “biggest case of identity theft in American history”, Philip Cummings defrauded some 33,000 victims between 2001 and 2002. The former Help Desk employee of a Long Island, NY software company and his accomplices ran a scheme that grossed between $50 million and $100 million.Cummings’ business involved obtaining credit reports from unsuspecting customers, then using that information to drain bank accounts and apply for credit cards.
Cummings pleaded guilty in 2004 and in 2005 was sentenced to 14 years. The judge said the damage he caused was “almost unimaginable”.
Senita Birt Dill and Ronald Jeremy Knowles
From 2009 to 2012, Senita Birt Dill and Ronald Jeremy Knowles illegally obtained personal information such as names, dates of birth and social security numbers. They filed over 1,000 false tax returns, collecting over $3.5 million in fraudulent tax refunds.
According to Anne M. Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, Dill and Knowles used tax preparation software to file and submit fraudulent federal and state tax returns. These returns filed included fictitious information such as income and the amount of federal tax withheld. Then, once they received a refund check from the IRS, they would deposit it into a personal account.
The criminals were sentenced to 324 and 70 months in prison, respectively, and ordered to pay $3,978,211 in restitution to the IRS.
In this Nevada case from 2018, a former information technology professional, Kenneth Gibson, used personal information to open approximately 8,000 fraudulent and unauthorized accounts with PayPal. Information obtained by Gibson, including names and identifying data, was stolen from his employer many years prior.
Interestingly, Gibson’s scheme was fully automated using a computer script that ran around the clock. Once PayPal accounts were opened, the theft would apply to linked credit accounts using the stolen identities.
FBI Special Agent Glen Lovedahl Noted“He was moving small amounts of money, and that doesn’t necessarily show up on a company’s radar screen.”
In total, Gibson was able to steal up to $3.5 million before being caught. After pleading guilty to wire fraud, mail fraud, filing a false tax return and aggravated identity theft, Gibson was sentenced to four years.
Many identity theft cases end up involving the IRS. Here’s one where an IRS was the abuser.
Nakeisha Hall pleaded guilty in 2016 to using taxpayer information to steal $1 million from hundreds of victims. Sentenced to nine years and two months in prison, Hall was ordered to pay $438,187 in restitution to the IRS.
Hall worked at various IRS offices between 2000 and 2011. Interestingly, one of them, the IRS Taxpayer Advocacy Service office in Birmingham, Alabama, is designed to help taxpayers struggling with identity theft issues.
During Hall’s sentencing, U.S. attorney Joyce White Vance Explain“Hall victimized American taxpayers and jeopardized the reputation of the IRS and its division which is dedicated to helping taxpayers facing problems resulting from identity theft. Today’s sentence reflects the outrageous and serious nature of his crime.”
Amar Singh and his wife Nehi Punjani-Singh
The creation and use of fraudulent credit cards was the basis of an identity theft ring run by Queens, New York couple Amar Singh and Neha Punjani-Singh. Along with more than 110 others, the two would buy items from Apple and Best Buy using the cards and then resell the items.
RFID scanners were used to scan consumers’ credit card information at retail or restaurant establishments and illegal websites as part of the program. Before being arrested in October 2011, the criminals had amassed $14 million in stolen money.
Although he faced 250 years in prison, Singh pleaded guilty in 2012 at age 5 1/3 to 10 2/3. His wife and others pleaded guilty to lesser charges.
For added peace of mind, learn about the many ways to protect your Social Security numbers from hackers.