NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Grisha Stpanov opened a credit card, charged up $20,000, but never paid it back.
That’s because Stpanov doesn’t exist.
Stpanov, or at least his credit profile, was the creation of Arman and Wachagan Hovhannisyan, two brothers from California who were accused of scamming 21 banks and the three major credit reporting bureaus by inventing hundreds — possibly thousands — of fake identities, and charging $500,000 on fraudulent credit cards.
While it may sound like the plot of a Hollywood heist movie, anyone who understands how credit works can easily game the system.
Even after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, banks are still doling out credit cards to any borrowers who look good on paper — even when that’s the only place they exist.
And the Hovhannisyan brothers are proof positive that most banks are still very susceptible to fraud.
How they did it
It all started when the Hovhannisyan brothers joined forces with a man named Jamal Hyde, who worked in a dentist’s office extending loans to patients and then reporting payments to Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus.
According to the government complaint filed in California federal court, which summarized the investigation, the brothers, along with Hyde, made up hundreds of fake social security numbers to establish false identities. The men then began reporting loan information and on-time payments for fictitious dental services to Experian.
Once the fake credit profiles had high credit scores, the men opened credit cards and took out loans, fooling issuers like Bank of America, Capital One , Wells Fargo , US Bank , Chase and Discover. In all, the government estimated that the men duped at least 21 financial institutions.
At first, they paid off the balances on time to improve the fake scores. Eventually, they ended up with hundreds of cards with a combined $500,000 credit limit, which they used to pay their own bills and purchase two luxury automobiles, federal documents show.
The Hovhannisyans were eventually caught by the FBI. After pleading guilty to lesser charges, they were both sentenced to more than 20 months in prison for bank fraud and must each pay restitution of $486,143. They entered prison in March.
Hyde is scheduled to appear at his sentencing in May.
How they got caught
About a year into the scheme, Experian flagged the fake accounts, saying the loan amounts seemed unusually high for dental services and that the geographic distribution of the patients was also unusual.
A spokesman for Experian said the company did carefully vet the dental practice involved in the case, and worked with law enforcement as soon as Experian became aware of the scam.
“In [this case], the dentist’s office involved was a legitimate business, which hired a rogue employee who reported the account data in question,” he said.
The three men likely picked the social security numbers at random and simply made up names, addresses and dates of birth, according to the case documents.
(Even if a social security number is already in use, if the name and other information doesn’t correspond when a credit bureau receives it, a new profile can be created.)
When government agents received a search warrant to check the homes of the three men, they found hundreds of documents with account numbers, drivers licenses, social security numbers and other personal information relating to the many identities they created.
The fact that the scheme went on for a year means that it probably could have continued a lot longer if the men had been a little more careful, said John Ulzheimer, personal finance expert at SmartCredit.com.
“They got greedy,” he said. “They were smart, but not smart enough — if they used modest credit lines and were more geographically sensitive, they could have kept it going.”
Why it could happen again
While this is considered a “victimless crime” since most of the “individuals” defrauded didn’t exist, (though the government believes several of the identities did belong to real people), the banks ultimately recoup fraud losses from their customers, said Ulzheimer.
“The takeaway from this case is that the system isn’t fool proof,” said Ulzheimer. “It can be manipulated. So it’s crucial that the credit bureaus do a good job making sure that folks who have credit profiles and access to reporting information are legitimate.”
But the job of the credit bureaus is to report the information given, not necessarily to take additional measures to determine its accuracy, said Jay Foley, founder of the Identity Theft Resource Center.
“The credit reporting agency may or may not realize there’s fraud, but they usually won’t do anything about it. Why would they? That’s not their job,” said Foley.
The banks disagree.
“Banks rely on the credit reporting, so they need to count on it being reliable,” said John Hall, spokesman for the American Bankers Association. “The weakest link in this case seems to be the credit reporting folks, because the product we get from them is only as good as it is accurate.”
While Experian said it typically alerts lenders to potential fraud, a spokeswoman from Wells Fargo said the bank doesn’t receive proactive alerts from credit bureaus. Instead, fraud risks are flagged through internal tools, network providers like Visa and MasterCard, merchants and customers.
A spokeswoman for Discover said the company advises merchants to use security processes to prevent fraud.
Capital One and US Bank could not be reached for comment, and the other major banks named in the complaint declined to comment.
“Our country still has no method of defining exactly who the customer is, how honorable the business reporting information is, or how accurate the information on the report is,” Foley said.
Creating better fraud prevention systems would be expensive, and consumers would likely end up paying, he added.
Experian said cases like this are rare. But if a more secure system isn’t developed, similar schemes could easily happen, Ulzheimer warned.
“These guys are almost trailblazers, they’ve proven the concept works, so now it’s just a matter of someone coming along and creating 25 more human beings and improving the process,” he said.
Do you have questions about embezzlement? Give Prosperident a call at 888-398-2327 or send an email to email@example.com
Content retrieved from: http://money.cnn.com/2011/05/03/pf/credit_card_fraud_identity_theft/
Jamal Hyde release conditions:
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
JAMAL CLIFFORD HYDE; JAY HYDE; JAMAL DANIELS; JC
Social Security No. 2 6 0 0 (Last 4 digits)
JUDGMENT AND PROBATION/COMMITMENT ORDER MONTH DAY YEAR
In the presence of the attorney for the government, the defendant appeared in person on this date. May 25 2011
Nina Marino (Name of Counsel)
X GUILTY, and the court being satisfied that there is a factual basis for the plea.
NOLO CONTENDERE NOT GUILTY
There being a finding/verdict of GUILTY, defendant has been convicted as charged of the offense(s) of:
Possession of at least 15 Counterfeit and Unauthorized Access Devices in violation of 18 U.S.C. §1029(a)(3) as charged in Count Seven of the Eight-Count First Superseding Indictment.
The Court asked whether there was any reason why judgment should not be pronounced. Because no sufficient cause to the contrary was shown, or appeared to the Court, the Court adjudged the defendant guilty as charged and convicted and ordered that: Pursuant to the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, it is the judgment of the Court that the defendant is hereby committed to the custody of the Bureau of Prisons to be imprisoned for a term of:
Five (5) years on Probation under the following terms and conditions:
The first twelve (12) months of probation shall be spent in a Residential Re-entry Center;
The defendant shall comply with the rules and regulations of the U. S. Probation Office and General Order 05-02;
The defendant shall refrain from any unlawful use of a controlled substance;
During the period of probation, the defendant shall pay the special assessment and restitution in accordance with this judgment’s orders pertaining to such payment;
The defendant shall apply all monies received from income tax refunds, lottery winnings, inheritance, judgments and any anticipated or unexpected financial gains to the outstanding court-ordered financial obligation;
The defendant shall not obtain or possess any driver’s license, Social Security number, birth certificate, passport or any other form of identification in any name, other than the defendant’s true legal name; nor shall the defendant use, for any purpose or in any manner, any name other than his true legal name or names without the prior written approval of the Probation Officer; and
The defendant shall cooperate in the collection of a DNA sample from the defendant.
It is ordered that the defendant shall pay to the United States a special assessment of $100, which is due immediately.
It is ordered that the defendant shall pay restitution in the total amount of $120,000 pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §3663A to victims as set forth in a separate victim list prepared by the probation office which this Court adopts and which reflects the Court’s determination of the amount of restitution due to each victim. The victim list, which shall be forwarded to the fiscal section of the clerk’s office by the probation officer, shall remain confidential to protect the privacy interests of the victims.
Restitution shall be due during the period of probation, at the rate of $100 per month or 10% of defendants’s gross monthly income, whichever is greater, and shall begin within 30 days from the pronouncement of judgment.
If the defendant makes a partial payment, each payee shall receive approximately The defendant shall be held jointly and severally liable with co-defendants Wachagan Hovhannisyan and Arman Hovhannisyan for the amount of restitution ordered in this judgment. The victims’ recovery is limited to the amount of their loss and the defendant’s liability for restitution ceases if and when the victims receive full restitution.
Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3612(f)(3)(A), interest on the restitution ordered is waived because the defendant does not have the ability to pay interest. Payments may be subject to nd delinquency pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3612(g).
The defendant shall comply with General Order No. 01-05.
All fines are waived as it is found that the defendant does not have the ability to pay a fine in addition to restitution.
It is recommended that the Bureau of Prisons conduct a mental health evaluation and provide all necessary treatment.
On Government’s motion, all remaining counts are ORDERED dismissed as to this To the extent defendant retained any rights to appeal, defendant is advised to file a notice of appeal within fourteen days.
Bond exonerated upon checking into the Residential Re-entry Center.
In addition to the special conditions of supervision imposed above, it is hereby ordered that the Standard Conditions of Probation and Supervised Release within this judgment be imposed. The Court may change the conditions of supervision, reduce or extend the period of supervision, and at any time during the supervision period or within the maximum period permitted by law, may issue a warrant and revoke supervision for a violation occurring during the supervision period.
U. S. District Judge
It is ordered that the Clerk deliver a copy of this Judgment and Probation/Commitment Order to the U.S. Marshal or other qualified
Clerk, U.S. District Court May 25, 2011 By Kendra Bradshaw Filed Date Deputy Clerk
The defendant shall comply with the standard conditions that have been adopted by this court (set forth below).
STANDARD CONDITIONS OF PROBATION AND SUPERVISED RELEASE
While the defendant is on probation or supervised release pursuant to this judgment:
The defendant shall not commit another Federal, state or
10. the defendant shall not associate with any persons engaged in criminal activity, and shall not associate with any person convicted of a felony unless granted permission to do so by the probation officer;
the defendant shall not leave the judicial district without the written permission of the court or probation officer; the defendant shall report to the probation officer as directed by the court or probation officer and shall submit a truthful and complete written report within the first five days of each month; the defendant shall answer truthfully all inquiries by the probation officer and follow the instructions of the probation officer; the defendant shall support his or her dependents and meet other family responsibilities; the defendant shall work regularly at a lawful occupation unless excused by the probation officer for schooling, training, or other acceptable reasons; the defendant shall notify the probation officer at least 10 days prior to any change in residence or employment; the defendant shall refrain from excessive use of alcohol and shall not purchase, possess, use, distribute, or administer any narcotic or other controlled substance, or any paraphernalia related to such substances, except as prescribed by a physician; the defendant shall not frequent places where controlled are illegally sold, used, distributed or
11. the defendant shall permit a probation officer to visit him or her at any time at home or elsewhere and shall permit confiscation of any contraband observed in plain view by the probation officer;
12. the defendant shall notify the probation officer within 72 hours of being arrested or questioned by a law enforcement officer;
13. the defendant shall not enter into any agreement to act as an informer or a special agent of a law enforcement agency without the permission of the court;
14. as directed by the probation officer, the defendant shall notify third parties of risks that may be occasioned by the defendant’s criminal record or personal history or characteristics, and shall permit the probation officer to make such notifications and to conform the defendant’s compliance with such notification requirement;
15. the defendant shall, upon release from any period of custody, report to the probation officer within 72 hours;
16. and, for felony cases only: not possess a firearm, destructive device, or any other dangerous weapon.
The defendant will also comply with the following special conditions pursuant to General Order 01-05 (set forth below).
STATUTORY PROVISIONS PERTAINING TO PAYMENT AND COLLECTION OF FINANCIAL SANCTIONS
The defendant shall pay interest on a fine or restitution of more than $2,500, unless the court waives interest or unless the fine or restitution is paid in full before the fifteenth (15th) day after the date of the judgment pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §3612(f)(1). Payments may be subject to penalties for default and delinquency pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §3612(g). Interest and penalties pertaining to restitution , however, are not applicable for offenses completed prior to April 24, 1996.
If all or any portion of a fine or restitution ordered remains unpaid after the termination of supervision, the defendant shall pay the balance as directed by the United States Attorney’s Office. 18 U.S.C. §3613.
The defendant shall notify the United States Attorney within thirty (30) days of any change in the defendant’s mailing address or residence until all fines, restitution, costs, and special assessments are paid in full. 18 U.S.C. §3612(b)(1)(F).
The defendant shall notify the Court through the Probation Office, and notify the United States Attorney of any material change in the defendant’s economic circumstances that might affect the defendant’s ability to pay a fine or restitution, as required by 18 U.S.C. §3664(k). The Court may also accept such notification from the government or the victim, and may, on its own motion or that of a party or the victim, adjust the manner of payment of a fine or restitution-pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §3664(k). See also 18 U.S.C. §3572(d)(3) and for probation 18 U.S.C. §3563(a)(7).
Payments shall be applied in the following order:
1. Special assessments pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §3013;
2. Restitution, in this sequence: Private victims (individual and corporate), Providers of compensation to private victims, The United States as victim;
4. Community restitution, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §3663(c); and
5. Other penalties and costs.