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FBI nabs AWOL soldier for stealing Paul Allen's debit card

Feds unseal charges alleging bank fraud against Microsoft biz baron

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An alleged US Army deserter has been charged with stealing the identity of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen to run a bank fraud scam.

Brandon Price, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, allegedly conned Citibank call centre workers into changing Allen’s address to that of Price’s modest home – as well as changing the phone number associated with his card – on 9 January. Days later he allegedly persuaded Citibank to send a replacement debit card in Allen's name to the bogus address.

"An individual identifying himself as Paul Allen called the customer service department of Citibank. The caller stated that he had misplaced his debit card at his residence, but did not want to report it stolen. The individual then successfully ordered a new debit card on the account of Paul Allen and had it sent via UPS," FBI agent Joseph J Ondercin explained in a criminal complaint (PDF).

The complaint fails to explain what personal information was used to successfully impersonate Allen. As a high-profile public figure, a great deal of personal information about Allen is in the public domain and his address and even social security number might not be hard to determine.

Citibank is defending its handling of the matter, pointing out the bank's anti-fraud systems quickly spotted something was amiss and blocked further fraud. “Through our own security procedures, Citibank identified the actions of a fraudulent account take over and turned the matter over to law enforcement. We will continue to work with law enforcement in the ongoing investigation.” Catherine Pulley, a CitiBank spokeswoman, told Wired.

Prosecutors allege Price used the debit card the same day UPS delivered it on 13 January to pay $658 payment into his Armed Forces Bank loan account before unsuccessfully attempting to use it to pay for the wire transfer of via Western Union and attempted purchases from Gamestop and Family Value stores in Pittsburgh. All three of the latter transactions were blocked.

Price, who has been absent without leave from the US Army since June 2010, faces wire fraud and bank fraud charges over the alleged scam. He's been held in federal custody pending a trial, the date for which is yet to be set. ®

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