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US Secret Service busts 28 ID fraudsters

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Updated A US-led operation targeting ID fraud crooks has led to the arrest of 28 people across seven countries this week.

The arrests follow an undercover operation headed by US Secret Service agents that successful infiltrated gangs that traded sensitive personal information and tips on ID fraud and forgery through online groups called Shadowcrew, Carderplanet and Darkprofits. The organisations were described by the US Justice Department as running a "one-stop marketplace for identity theft".

Operation Firewall identified a group of suspects investigators reckon collectively stole over 1.7 million credit card numbers as well as forging driving licenses, birth certificates and passports. Losses to banks through credit card fraud because of the gang's activities are estimated at $4.3m. The suspects face identity theft, computer fraud, credit card fraud and conspiracy charges.

"These suspects targeted the sensitive and private information of ordinary citizens as well as the confidential and proprietary information of companies," said Secret Service director W Ralph Basham. He added that the early arrest of the suspects prevented losses that could have run into hundreds of millions of dollars.

Operation Firewall began in July 2003 as an investigation in access device fraud before expanding into an investigation of global credit card fraud and identity theft fraud. The US Secret Service singled out the UK's National Hi-Tech Crime Unit, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Europol for praise in supporting the investigation.

In a statement (PDF) the US Secret Service said Operation Firewall had led to the arrest of suspects in "eight states and six foreign countries" this week. Among those arrested was a 19 year-old from Camberley, Surrey, who was picked up on Wednesday (27 October). The Secret Service hasn't said which other countries are involved. But since US authorities worked with their counterparts in the UK, Canada, Bulgaria, Belarus, Poland, Sweden, Ukraine and the Netherlands we can deduce that the suspects came from one or other of those countries or the US. ®

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