Find out how the good guys won and lost in this current home equity identity theft scam. Good guys lost money and their identity, but many thieves in the ring were caught and prosecuted. Read more how this happened.
As if home-equity holders and lenders haven’t had enough problems recently, a group referred to as a global identity theft ring have stolen over $10 million through home equity scams.
The ring basically hijacked home-equity lines that had been issued to thousands of customers using what has been called a combination of “high-tech equipment and old-fashioned con-artistry.”
Good News- There’s Been Arrests and Convictions
So far, a total of eight men have been recently charged, in New Jersey’s U.S. District Court. The identity thieves in this case scammed several credit unions and banks into wiring over $2.5 million from home-equity lines to members of a fraud ring in China, South Korea, Vietnam, Japan and Canada.
Two weeks ago three others whose crimes were connected to the New Jersey ring, plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Authorities say over $10 million was involved.
Last Thursday, three people authorities say were connected to the New Jersey gang; pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and related charges. Officials say they stole at least $10 million through home-equity scams.
How Were Victims Chosen? Could You Be a Victim?
In these cases it is clear that identity thieves targeted people with good credit who had large, unused home-equity lines of credit.
The criminals went through public records, such as property deeds and mortgages. They also used internet databases to obtain credit reports. Additionally, they used fee based internet databases to find documents that provided birthdates, social security numbers and mother’s maiden names. Mother’s maiden name is a common security question answer.
They Simply Called the Bank and Asked for a Transfer?
Yes. The identity theft ring acknowledges that they used a variety of technologies to avoid exposing their phone numbers when calling banks and in some cases, making it appear as though they were calling from the victim’s own phone. With the victim’s personal information in hand, they simply called the banks and credit unions and requested wire transfers of money to places like Canada and Asia.
How Did They Do It?
â€¢ Caller-ID spoof cards Read (“SpoofCard Becomes “Untraceable”: SpoofCard and “Caller ID Spoofing” explained” for more information on SpoofCards.
â€¢ Prepaid cell phones
â€¢ PC wireless cards
â€¢ Transferred victims home telephone numbers to their lines temporarily
Yes, Hakeem Olokodana allegedly called Verizon, posed as a victim, complained of phone problems and finally persuaded Verizon to forward all incoming calls to a separate number. Therefore when the bank returned the “customers” call, they would reach Olokodana.
Verizon spokesman Eric Rabe admits that they are a “frequent target of these kinds of attacks” and adds “we certainly have lots of measures in place to prevent this sort of thing.” Remember, however that the criminals had already accessed so much personal information that they would easily pass any security question test.
According to New Jersey U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie, “”Home-equity lines of credit are an expanding front in the battle against mortgage fraud. Homeowners should carefully review their statements to make sure their hard-earned equity is not disappearing from under their noses.”
Many customers with good credit apply for and are issued a home-equity line of credit that they don’t intend to use right away. For many, it is a “just in case I need it” cushion that they enjoy having in place. If you have been approved for a home-equity line, take Christie’s advice and make sure you open and review your statements regularly even though you aren’t expecting in activity on the account. Identity thieves are counting on the fact that you won’t so be sure to disappoint them.
For more information on home equity and mortgage fraud and how to protect yourself read, ““Are You a Victim of Mortgage Fraud? Here is What You Can Do ”