By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Twenty-nine people in the Chicago area face state or federal charges for involvement with a bank fraud scheme known as "cracking cards," which found participants through rap music and social media, prosecutors said on Wednesday.
The multimillion-dollar scheme, which started on Chicago's South Side about three years ago, involved recruiting bank customers to give up their debit cards and PIN numbers with the promise of making fast cash, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago said.
Bank customers were recruited at parties, schools, on the street or through social media such as Instagram and Facebook, prosecutors said. The scheme, which has been seen in other areas of the country, is also known as "card popping."
After the defendants got the cards and information, they made or bought counterfeit checks to deposit into the accounts, waited for the amount to be credited, and then withdrew money.
Four defendants called themselves the "R.A.C.K. Boyz" or "Rack Boyz." They have Facebook and Twitter accounts and posted videos on YouTube, including a rap video called "For the Money," which refers to "cracking cards" and shows large amounts of cash, prosecutors said.
"Our purpose today is to warn bank customers that fast cash schemes are usually too good to be true and they should always safeguard their account information," said Zachary Fardon, U.S. attorney in Chicago.
One defendant, Matthew Mosley, 26, of Chicago, made counterfeit checks that he used and sold to others, prosecutors said.
He was one of 16 people charged in Chicago with federal bank fraud for causing more than $1.7 million in bank losses. Ten of the defendants are still at large.
Citibank, U.S. Bancorp, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Bank of America Corp and others were identified as victims of the scheme. Persons whose bank cards were used may also be victims if the bank made them pay the money back, or if they were promised money they didn't get, said Randall Samborn, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office.
One of the "Rack Boyz," Kevin Ford, 26, of Chicago, also printed fraudulent checks and made threats to law enforcement officers on Facebook, prosecutors said.
Six others have been charged in Hammond, Indiana, southeast of Chicago, with federal bank fraud, and seven defendants face state financial crime charges, brought by the Cook County State's Attorney.
If convicted, the federal defendants could receive maximum sentences of between five and 30 years in prison.
Information on the defense attorneys was not immediately available, nor were possible sentences on the state charges.
(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Eric Beech)