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World's largest ID theft felon faces 14 years' jail

Help desk technician pleads guilty to $50m scam

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A former New York computer help desk technician yesterday pleaded guilty to playing a key part in what prosecutors reckon is the largest identity theft case to date.

Philip Cummings, 35, pleaded guilty to conspiracy over his central role in a scam believed to have hit upwards of 30,000 victims and cost millions through fraudulent transactions. At the time of Cummings' November 2002 indictment, investigators had confirmed losses of more than $2.7m in connection racket. Losses from the racket - which ran for approximately three years - are now estimated to exceed $50m.

Cummings worked for Teledata Communications, which supplies software to link the systems of banks and credit reference agencies from mid-1999 until March 2000. He used this role to obtain confidential passwords and codes to download potential victims' credit reports before selling them on to crooks. Cummings was paid $30 for each report. The information he sold enabled criminals to impersonate victims and obtain fraudulent loans, access bank accounts and run up unauthorised credit card bills in their name. More than 15,000 credit reports were stolen from credit reference bureau Experian, using passwords belonging to Ford Motor Credit Corporation. The passwords and subscriber codes of Washington Mutual Bank in Florida and Washington Mutual Finance Company in Crossville, Tennessee were also compromised. Cummings used this information to download reports after he left Teledata and relocated from New York to Georgia.

The information sourced by Cummings fed a network of at least 20 ID fraudsters across the US, according to prosecutors. A number of people have already pleaded guilty to involvement in the scam while other case remain pending.

Reuters reports that Cummings could be jailed for at least 14 years and fined $1m after confessing to conspiracy, wire fraud and fraud offences in connection with his crimes. However he has a heart problem which might cause the authorities to impose a much more lenient sentence, it reports. Sentencing before US District Judge George Daniels has been set for 11 January 2005. ®

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ID theft: a $1bn a year crime
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