US jails Brit credit card fraud mastermind for 14 years

Why are they calling it identity theft, these days?

An expatriate Brit who helped mastermind the US's biggest credit card fraud has been sentenced in New York to 14 years imprisonment.

Former computer help desk technician Philip Cummings, 35, pleaded guilty to conspiracy, wire fraud and fraud offences last September over his central role in a scam believed to have hit more than 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. Losses from the scam - which ran for approximately three years - are now put at between $50m and $100m.

US District Judge George Daniels said the case "emphasised how easy it is to wreak havoc on people's financial and personal lives", the New York Post reports. Judge Daniels jailed Cummings for 14 years commencing 9 March 2005. He will also have to pay compensations to his victims, the amount of which will be decided at a later hearing. 400lb (182kg) Cummings has a heart condition but Judge Daniels turned down pleas from the defence to go easy of their client because of his medical condition.

Crime and punishment

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 under false 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 even after he left Teledata and relocated from New York to Georgia.

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

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