By Aman Ali
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York-based crime ring that used forged credit cards to mainly buy and resell Apple products overseas has been busted, police said on Friday in what was described as the largest identity fraud case in U.S. history.
Authorities said waiters and service sector workers stole customers' personal information and syndicates in Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Asia then used the data to issue credit cards that financed an estimated $13 million shopping spree.
"The schemes and the imagination of these thieves is mind-boggling," New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said at a press conference.
"These crimes are getting more sophisticated and thieves have amazing knowledge of how to use technology," Kelly said.
A total of 111 people from five criminal enterprises operating out of Queens, New York were indicted with identity theft, forgery, robbery and other crimes as part of a two-year investigation dubbed "Operation Swiper," police said.
They said crime bosses received blank credit cards from suppliers in Russia, Libya, Lebanon and China and hired "skimmers" to pose as retail workers who used electronic devices to steal the credit card data from customers.
The information was then programed into the magnetic strips of blank credit cards, according to the indictment. In some cases, printing machines were used to forge credit cards and matching state drivers licenses.
Police said "crew leaders" oversaw the illicit nationwide shopping and that the goods purchased were mostly resold to customers overseas. The thieves, however, apparently focused on Apple products.
"This is primarily an Apple case," New York Police Department Deputy Inspector Gregory Antonsen said. "Apple is a big ticket item and a very easy sell."
Police seized Apple products worth tens of thousands of dollars, $850,000 worth of stolen computer equipment, $650,000 in cash, handguns and a truck full of electronics, designer shoes, watches, identity theft equipment and other goods.
The enterprise was worth an estimated $13 million, according to police, who said they used court-approved wiretaps on dozens of phones to build their case. Detectives spent hours translating conversations in Russian, Mandarin and Arabic as part of the probe.
Eighty-six of the 111 people indicted for the crimes were in custody, police said.
(Editing by Paul Simao)