HSI: Biloxi woman's suspicion helped crack global fraud case [The Sun Herald :: ]
(Sun Herald (Biloxi, MS) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) May 22--GULFPORT -- A Biloxi woman became suspicious when a man she met online asked her to have smartphones shipped to her home so she could ship them to Pretoria, South Africa, court papers show.
Homeland Security Investigations agents in Gulfport took her complaint seriously in October 2011, sparking an international cyber-crimes probe that led to 20 arrests Tuesday around the world.
Agents believe they have unraveled multiple mass-marketing fraud schemes in which the suspects wooed romantic interests and recruited unsuspecting at-home workers to help carry out crimes that victimized them and hundreds of others.
The investigation led agents to Pretoria and its Sunnyside suburb.
Officials said the fraud ring stole identities and used fraudulent credit-card information and bogus checks to buy phones, computers, tablets and shipping labels. When the electronics reached South Africa, they were advertised for sale on the Internet.
Those arrested include 11 Nigerians and a South African woman. They were to appear in a Pretoria court Wednesday pending extradition to Gulfport. Five Nigerians were arrested in Atlanta, Indianapolis and Toronto, Canada. Others were arrested in Georgia, South Carolina, California, Indiana, New York and Wisconsin.
Their charges include money laundering, aggravated identity theft and multiple types of fraud.
The Biloxi woman was among 52 people whose names and addresses were targeted in one scam, the indictment said. That scam reportedly involved phones bought with the woman's stolen Visa card information and cell phone service set up in another victim's name.
One suspect allegedly provided the Biloxi woman with a $3,000 check and instructions to deposit it in her bank account and wire the money to someone else. The check was bogus, the indictment said.
Officials said Interpol, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and police in Toronto, Charleston, Atlanta and South Africa have helped in the ongoing investigation.
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