Leader and Two Co-Conspirators Plead Guilty This Week to Bank Fraud Scheme Involving Over 200 Victims
Baltimore, Maryland – Tariq Hicks, age 48, of Owings Mills, Maryland, pleaded guilty on May 2, 2016; and Eddie Carey, age 32; and Ishia Biff Cason, age 36, both of Baltimore, pleaded guilty on May 5, 2016, to bank fraud conspiracy and aggravated identity theft arising from a scheme to use stolen credit information of more than 200 victims to defraud financial institutions.
The guilty pleas were announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge Andre R. Watson of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); and Special Agent in Charge Brian Murphy of the United States Secret Service - Baltimore Field Office.
According to their plea agreements, from at least June 2013, through December 18, 2013, Hicks, Carey, Cason, and others, conspired to defraud financial institutions by accessing stolen credit card and debit card accounts belonging to real people and using counterfeit cards encoded with the stolen account information to make unauthorized purchases.
Hicks purchased the stolen account information over the internet and used a computer and an electronic device called a “reader-writer” to encode the stolen credit and debit card information onto existing credit cards, gift cards, or other similar cards. These cards were sold or distributed to co-conspirators, such as Carey and Cason, who used them and provided the bulk of the proceeds to Hicks.
Hicks also purchased or obtained over the internet “credit profiles” containing the identity information of victims. He then obtained full credit reports for these victims. Using the information from the credit reports, Hicks sent co-conspirators into stores where the victims had existing credit accounts, with the victim’s personal identity information so that they could “authenticate” themselves as the victim. The co-conspirators, including Carey and Cason, would then make purchases on the existing accounts (called “account takeover”). In addition, Hicks used the credit reports to identify stores at which a victim did not have an account, and sent Carey, Cason and other co-conspirators into those stores with the same personal identity information. The co-conspirators would apply for new credit accounts in the victim’s identity, and then use that “instant credit” to make purchases before the victim learned of the account.
For all of these schemes, Hicks obtained fraudulent drivers’ licenses which bore the information of the victim, but the photograph of a co-conspirator. Hicks or a co-defendant would often provide a cheat sheet with the necessary personal identity and account information so that the co-conspirator would have ready and covert access to the information as needed. The co-conspirators could then use the counterfeit license to establish their identity as the victim.
Carey assisted Hicks by conducting wire transfers of money in payment for the stolen credit card numbers and personal profiles. Carey always used a victim identity, provided by Hicks, to wire the money, usually between $2,000 and $3,000, to an individual in the Ukraine. As one of the few men participating in the conspiracy, Carey was often involved in the exploitation of any male victim’s identity and account information. He used the counterfeit cards both to purchase merchandise and to rent cars for use by members of the conspiracy.
Hicks instructed Carey and others to travel to other states to engage in the fraud. Carey frequently traveled north to Pennsylvania and south as far as Georgia to engage in fraud, including North and South Carolina, West Virginia, and Virginia. As they traveled, Carey used counterfeit cards in victims’ names to rent hotel rooms and automobiles. Cason, who was on probation at the time and not allowed to travel outside of Maryland, conducted her fraudulent activities in Maryland.
On December 18, 2013, a search warrant was executed at Hicks’ residence, where he lived with Carey and another co-defendant. Located on the dining table in the kitchen area was a complete set up for the fraud scheme, including a computer with the credit profiles and credit reports on it, a reader/writer device, credit cards in various states of manufacture, money gram receipts for payments for the stolen credit card numbers and profiles, lists of personal identity information and “cheat sheets.” Also recovered were dozens of credit cards bearing victims’ names and accounts, as well as dozens of fraudulent identification to match the credit cards, all bearing the information of the victims but the photographs of co-conspirators. In Hicks’ bedroom was a receipt for a storage unit which was rented in a false identity used by a co-defendant. A search warrant was executed on the storage unit and a duplicate “mill” was located, including an embosser to manufacture embossed credit cards, and boxes containing hundreds of blank plastic cards ready for counterfeiting, including white, gold, silver and black cards. There were also over 150 cards in various states of manufacture.
Over 450 compromised accounts were compiled from the evidence seized from the residence and storage locker, although most had not yet been used in the scheme. There were over 200 victims, including businesses and financial institutions which sustained an actual loss and victims who had their identities compromised in the conspiracy. Based on the individual victims and credit accounts which were recovered from the search warrant, actual losses associated with the scheme are $61,030.78. As part of their plea agreements, the defendants will be required to pay restitution in the full amount of the victims’ losses.
The defendants each face a maximum sentence of 30 years in for the bank fraud conspiracy, and a mandatory two years in prison, consecutive to any other sentence imposed, for aggravated identity theft. U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar scheduled sentencing for Hicks on June 10, 2016 at 9:30 a.m.; for Carey on August 18, 2016 and for Cason on August 5, 2016, both at 2:00 p.m.
The Maryland Identity Theft Working Group has been working since 2006 to foster cooperation among local, state, federal, and institutional fraud investigators and to promote effective prosecution of identity theft schemes by both state and federal prosecutors. This case, as well as other cases brought by members of the Working Group, demonstrates the commitment of law enforcement agencies to work with financial institutions and businesses to address identity fraud, identify those who compromise personal identity information, and protect citizens from identity theft.
Today’s announcement is part of the efforts undertaken in connection with the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. The task force was established to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices, and state and local partners, it’s the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud. Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets; and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other organizations. Since fiscal year 2009, the Justice Department has filed over 18,000 financial fraud cases against more than 25,000 defendants. For more information on the task force, please visit www.StopFraud.gov.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein commended HSI Baltimore and the U.S. Secret Service for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Tamera L. Fine, who is prosecuting the case.