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Four arrested in ID thefts aimed at home equity loans
NEWARK, N.J. (12/1/08)--Four men were arrested Tuesday in connection with an international identity theft ring that targeted home equity lines of credit and caused $2.5 million in losses at dozens of credit unions and banks. Eleven of the institutions were in New Jersey (The Star-Ledger Nov. 25). The arrests follow an investigation that began in November 2007. The ring targeted homeowners who had large lines of credit at financial institutions, including JPMorgan Chase, Citibank, and credit unions in three New Jersey cities--Basking Ridge, Bridgewater and Toms River. They used stolen personal data and technology to fool financial institution employees into transferring funds to accounts in at least seven countries, said the U.S. Attorney's office. In the past, ID thieves typically targeted people with shaky credit and took illegal loans in their names from subprime lenders with little documentation, said the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). However, the credit crisis hampered the thieves and they turned to homeowners who have good credit and deep home equity. The thieves obtained Social Security numbers, mothers' maiden names and online passwords by mining public records, obtaining the information from overseas sources, and from tricking bank employees into releasing personal information over the phone. They blocked the banks' caller identification systems and asked to transfer large amounts from the victims' home equity lines. In one case, they moved $675,000 from Affinity FCU in Basking Ridge to the Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi, said the authorities. They also persuaded bank employees to change the telephone number on accounts or convinced phone company employees to reroute their victims' calls. The frauds are being linked to similar cases in Virginia, where nine people were charged with stealing more than $51 million. The four arrested were: Oludola Akinmola, 37, and Oladeji Craig, 39, both of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Oluwajide Ogunbiyi, 32, of Springfield, Ill.; and Derrick Polk, 45, of Los Angeles. They are charged with conspiracy to: possess personal identification information, commit wire fraud and gain unauthorized access to a computer. If convicted, they face up to 50 years in prison and a maximum $1.5 million fine.
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