Hollywood superhero proves to be Kryptonite to fraud scheme

AP News
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Posted: Jun 17, 2016 4:34 PM
Hollywood superhero proves to be Kryptonite to fraud scheme

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A criminal scheme worthy of Lex Luthor unraveled with the help of Supergirl, authorities said: An international identity-theft ring so complex, prosecutors say that even with the arrest of four people Thursday they have only just begun to uncover its full extent.

The schemes, which allegedly roped in hundreds of victims and millions of dollars, relied in part on scouring the internet for mugshot-type photos that could plausibly be plugged onto fake IDs that could be used in credit applications, charges and financial transactions, according to investigators who tracked the ring for two years.

That's where actress Laura Vandervoort, who played Supergirl on TV, comes in. On one fake passport, the suspects used a photo of Vandervoort, said Joshua Stueve, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, which is prosecuting the case. Vandervoort's picture was a mugshot-style photo used as a prop when she played the role of Lisa on the sci-fi show V.

While combing through evidence in the early stages of the case, one agent instantly recognized her picture as Supergirl from another sci-fi show, Smallville. The discovery helped agents realize the extent to which the ring had gone to support its scheme.

As the investigation continued, prosecutors found increasingly elaborate schemes, according to court records: In one instance, they created a fake company called the Deutche Group. Job advertisements for Deutche Group were placed on Craigslist, and unwitting applicants would supply personal data like Social Security numbers on their applications that would then be used to further the scheme, according to court records.

The ring created fake travel companies called triparenaonline and flycheap.com, which would offer discount air and hotel reservations, according to FBI affidavits. Unsuspecting customers would pay for the travel, but the schemers would keep the money, authorities said. Then, to preserve the perception the transaction was legitimate, the ring would book customers' travel using stolen credit cards.

Occasionally a traveler would get lucky and take their trip without incident. Frequently, though, customers would arrive at the airport to find the tickets canceled because the fraud had been discovered. In some cases, travelers were stranded when they were able to arrive at their destination only to find their return flights canceled.

The ring had extensive contacts in India, including an insider at an American Express call center who supplied stolen card numbers, according to court documents.

Authorities arrested four people Thursday, including two from northern Virginia: Amit Chaudhry, 44, of Ashburn and Jacqueline Green-Morris, 40, of Woodbridge. Two others were arrested in Georgia.

Chaudhry — who headed up an Ashburn Company called The Knowledge Center, which prosecutors believe is part of the fraud — is charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, and Green-Morris is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Both are being held pending detention hearings scheduled for Monday. Neither had attorneys.

Chaudhry, in particular, seemed caught off guard by his arrest Thursday, telling a magistrate at his initial appearance in federal court in Alexandria that he didn't understand the charges against him and denying he had any significant ties to India.

Prosecutors say their investigation is ongoing, and they are hoping that victims who came into contact with Chaudhry, The Knowledge Center, the Deutche Group or any of his other business dealings will come forward to help them get a handle on the scope of the scheme. Those who believe they may have been a victim can file a complaint at ic3.gov, and should use the keyword "CCTRAVELVICTIM" in their description of the complaint, Stueve said.

Vandervoort's representatives did not immediately return a call seeking comment Friday.