Federal agents said they have uncovered a massive international identity-theft scheme that victimized at least hundreds and maybe thousands of people, including an actress who appeared in the television shows “Smallville” and “Supergirl.”
Federal authorities arrested two people in Virginia and two people in Georgia on Thursday as part of a sophisticated operation they say involved stealing identities and producing fake shell companies that could apply for high-balance credit cards.
The sprawling conspiracy involved many millions of dollars, authorities say, though after two years of investigation they believe they have only scratched the surface. Court documents say that the group would bill credit card companies for payments to its own shell companies, then route the money through various entities and sometimes out of the country.
Organized under the umbrella “the Deutche Group,” the conspiracy extended to India, Thailand and Britain as well as the United States. Prosecutors are asking any potential victims to come forward and help illuminate the scope of the scheme.
The conspirators would advertise jobs for Deutche Group on Craigslist, according to authorities, and then steal the personal information applicants gave them. They also set up online companies offering airfare and hotel deals, according to court filings, then pocketed the funds and used stolen credit cards to book the travel. Some travelers were stranded partway through vacations when their itineraries were canceled due to fraud alerts.
When such fraud alerts led credit card companies to challenge charges, the group used digitally created images of credit cards and passports to back up their spending, authorities say.
One such passport used an image of actress Laura Vandervoort taken from a scene from the television show “V” involving visas, authorities said.
An FBI agent who was a fan of “Smallville” immediately recognized Vandervoort’s photo, authorities said, and the image helped authorities lock down a time frame for the creation of the fake passport and illuminated some of the group’s digital maneuvering. Vandervoort played Supergirl on “Smallville” and also plays a villain on the show “Supergirl.”
According to the charging documents, the group even set up its own bank in India and attempted to join the Visa network, so that they could approve their own fraudulent transactions.
Amit Chaudhry of Ashburn was arrested Thursday. He is accused of masterminding the U.S. operations. According to prosecutors, his siblings and other relatives and associates in India helped steal identities and create shell corporations. To date, prosecutors have identified 353 fake companies associated with the scheme.
Prosecutors say it was a New York woman who questioned charges to her credit card that first alerted them to the group, which they believe has been operating since at least 2012.
In court Thursday, Chaudhry appeared bewildered. He said he did not understand the charges against him. “I never transferred money,” he said. “I don’t have any significant ties to India.”
An affidavit filed in the Eastern District of Virginia federal court lists five aliases for Chaudhry, including “John King,” and “Sachin Sinha."
Jacqueline Green of Woodbridge was also arrested Thursday and charged with wire fraud. Green appears to have met Chaudhry through her job at the government information technology contractor ActioNet. Chaudhry was running his own Ashburn-based company called Knowledge Center, which authorities say did both legitimate IT training and supported his illegal activity. According to prosecutors, Green would overbill or fradulently bill her company for training provided by Chaudhry’s firm.
If convicted, both Chaudhry and Green face up to two decades in prison, as well as significant fines. The defendants arrested in Georgia, Sudhakar Jha and Tanav Jha, have a detention hearing set for next week and authorities said they will then be brought to Virginia to face trial.
Other perpetrators, authorities said, have fled to India. It was a now-former employee at American Express in India, according to prosecutors, who helped procure some of the stolen identities, as did other overseas sources.
People who believe they may have been affected by this alleged fraud should submit their complaint online at www.ic3.gov, and include the keyword “CCTRAVELVICTIM” in the “Description of the Incident” field.