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North Texas a top area targeted by criminals working remotely

Web-savvy thieves getting creative to commit fraud

by Kevin Krause, Staff Writer Dallas Morning News, May 27, 2013

North Texas is one of the hot spots in a growing trend in which Web-savvy people are finding creative new ways to rob businesses, individuals and governments remotely.

Authorities recently said an international cyber theft ring stole about $45 million by hacking into banks' computer systems to access debit cards.  Similar thefts are happening locally on a much smaller scale, and the head of the Dallas FBI office Has said such online thievery is one of his top priorities.

Earlier this month, Samantha Campbell and Martha Ann Talley of Collin County were indicted on federal fraud charges of stealing from the Texas Workforce Commission by creating new debit cards from legitimate accounts given to people receiving unemployment benefits.

And in September, Syed Ali Kazmi was sentenced to four years in federal prison for stealing from AT&T.  He accessed its computer system to create new accounts for customers with iPhones, which he then misused.  He pleaded guilty to aggravated identify theft.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center, known as IC3, released an annual report last week listing Texas as having the third highest number of complaints in the nation in 2012, behind California and Florida.  IC3 is a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center.

The FBI calls it a "central hub for Internet-related crime complaints."  It says the center's information can lead to arrests and helps identify trends for the public, such as "scareware," where victims get pop-up messages on their computers claiming to report infections that can only be removed by buying certain antivirus software.


A related scam known as "ransonware" involves malware that freezes victims' computers and warns the user that U.S.. Law has been violated.  It then describes how the user can pay a find to the Justice Department.

Supervisory Special Agent Herbert Stapleton of the FBI's cyber division said technology offers criminals an efficient way to commit fraud, such as sending millions of emails with the click of a button.

"The same technology that we all use to make our legitimate jobs easier also makes the jobs easier for people conducting criminal activity," he said.  "There's a certain convenience factor to it."

As Internet technology continues to advance, unscrupulous people will find more ways to commit crimes, Stapleton said.

"The people who do this, they do it almost as a job.  And so part of what they do is adapt to changes," he said.  "If we make a move that cuts off one avenue that they can use, then they'll adapt and find a different route or adapt their methods to make them effective just like any other business."

In the Dallas-area debit card scam, co-conspirators gave Campbell and Talley bank debit card numbers that had been assigned to people receiving unemployment benefits, according to the federal indictment.  Campbell used a computer program to create additional card numbers, records said.

The workforce commission administers the state's unemployment benefits program with JPMorgan Chase bank debit cards, which are mailed to those receiving the benefits.

Campbell and Talley verified that the new debit card numbers were valid by calling the bank's toll-free phone number, records state.  They then printed the numbers onto a laminate sheet and placed them on blank debit or credit cards such as Green Dot, which provides reloadable prepaid cards, the indictment said.

Both women then used the cards to buy food, gift cards and merchandise, or to make ATM withdrawals, according to the indictment.

Stapleton said he couldn't comment on specific cases but, in general, technology exists to re-encode information on any card with a magnetic strip because it's used in legitimate business.

"Just like almost anything else in the world, you can take something that has legitimate or good use and put it to use for a bad purpose," he said.

In May 2010, Campbell paid for a restaurant meal with three fraudulent debit card numbers.  at the time, she had more than 50 such numbers, authorities said.

The following month, Talley also paid for a restaurant meal with one of the fake numbers.  She had a least 11 debit card numbers at the time, records show. 

The indictment did not say how much money the women are accused of stealing.  They are charged with conspiracy to commit access device fraud and face up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 if convicted.

Kazmi, 24, who has lived in Lewisville and Carrollton, used his brother's birth date to conceal his criminal history when he was hired at Mobilelife, an AT&T dealer that operates mall kiosks.  His hiring occurred several months after he pleaded guilty to fraud charges in two different North Texas counties.

As a sales manager at a Frisco mall, Kazmi had access to customers' wireless telephone accounts and personal information, including Social Security numbers.  He installed a computer program called LogMeIn on his own computer that allowed him to remotely access Mobilelife sales terminals, according to documents related to his guilty plea.

Discounted iPhones

Kazmi used a customers' Social Security numbers to change their AT&T phone accounts - by adding phone lines and adding himself as a user - or opened new accounts.  Those changes allowed the customers to purchase iPhones from Apple at discounted prices.

Kazmi or others brought the iPhones at Apple stores using the new or modified accounts. He then sold the phones for a profit to a conspirator who exported them overseas.  More than 200 accounts were accessed, involving more than 1,000 phone lines, according to federal authorities.

AT&T had to reimburse Apple for the iPhones because they were not returned.  The scam cost the company more than $400,000, court records said.

In 2009, Kazmi pleaded guilty in Denton County to fraudulent use or possession of identifying information, according to court records.  He received a deferred sentence and probation.  But a warrant for his arrest has since been issued in the case after the district attorney's office filed a motion to revoke his probation.

He pleaded guilty to an identical fraud charge in Dallas County, also in 2009, and also received a deferred sentence and probation there, records show.

May, 29 2013