A federal grand jury has returned a 62-count indictment charging 32 individuals for their alleged participation in a massive international loan fraud scheme that targeted thousands of individuals in the United States, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced this week.
“As a result of this investigation by Homeland Security Investigations, a major international criminal network has been disrupted,” said ICE Director John Morton. “Conniving and stealing is over for this den of thieves. Instead of manipulating those struggling to make ends meet, the 33 members of this ring now have to answer criminal charges in federal court. Had they not been caught, these con artists would still be profiting from their charade.”
According to the indictment, the defendants participated in a large-scale loan fraud scheme that operated over the Internet in various cities in the United States and Ontario, Canada. The defendants would use various websites and search engines to direct potential loan applicants to apply for unsecured personal loans online with non-existent financial companies, ICE said. The applicants would be contacted by representatives from the non-existent companies, who would inform them that they were approved for the loans and direct them to make a payment through Western Union in order to receive the loan. The victims never received any loans or money from the defendants.
The defendants later abandoned the old websites and began operating new websites featuring new non-existent companies.
More than 2,000 victims who lost more than $2.7 million pursuant to the scheme have been identified through the investigation.
“This case demonstrates the real-world threats that continue to be present in the online domain,” said U.S. Attorney Hochul. “Here, potential loan applicants were misled by Internet advertising and the clever creation of fictitious companies with names similar to those with proven track records. Customers of all types should be reminded that when dealing with anyone online – whether to purchase goods, or to provide personal or financial information about yourself – it is especially important to do your homework. Do not rely solely on online advertisements or emails, ask questions, and do not be pressured.”
All of the defendants have been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to launder money. The conspiracy to commit wire fraud charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The conspiracy to launder money charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to twice the amount of property involved in the crime.