Federal authorities have announced a series of arrests and convictions of a global identity theft ring that stole millions of dollars by hijacking home-equity lines of credit issued to thousands of consumers, the Washington Post reports. Last week, officials arrested four men from a group that allegedly combined high-tech equipment with old-fashioned con-artistry to drain home-equity lines. The men and four others arrested earlier this year were charged with tricking multiple banks and credit unions into wiring more than $2.5 million from home-equity lines to accounts controlled by members of a fraud ring in Canada, China, Japan, Vietnam, and South Korea.
The cases highlight what the FBI calls an “emerging scheme” afflicting the struggling real estate and mortgage market. Thieves target people with good credit and large, untapped home-equity lines of credit, digging through public records — such as property deeds and mortgages — as well as publicly available Internet databases to obtain credit applications, credit reports, and victim signatures. In Virginia cases, the defendants acknowledged using caller-ID spoofing services, prepaid cellphones, and PC wireless cards to hide their location and identity online. Some defendants transferred victims’ home telephone numbers to alternate lines they controlled to stay one step ahead when banks called to verify transfer requests.