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Feds charge 11, some overseas, in largest-ever identity theft bust

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The U.S. Justice Department said today that it had charged 11 people for their alleged roles in the largest identify theft case cracked to date, one best known for the loss of personal information on customers at chains owned by TJX Cos., including TJ Maxx.

The ring is accused of driving past retailers and restaurants with wireless equipment, looking for ways into the corporate wireless networks. Once inside, they planted ‘sniffers’ to capture credit card and debit card information as it was being transmitted internally, according to indictments in Boston and San Diego.

A three-year undercover investigation turned up records on 41 million people stored on computers in Eastern Europe. Tens of millions of dollars were lost as the perpetrators created new bank cards with stolen data and then made withdrawals from ATM machines.

U.S. Atty. Gen. Michael Mukasey and other officials said the ring was led by a Secret Service informant who functioned as a triple agent, warning suspects of ongoing probes. Albert Gonzalez of Miami faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

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Also charged were residents of Ukraine, Estonia and China, underscoring the increasing globalization of cyber-crime.

-- Joseph Menn


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