A credit card fraud and identity theft scheme cost dozens of senior citizens upward of $2 million, according to a statement made Tuesday by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
Julia Jacobo of ABC News reports that a Miami couple are charged with the crime. Would-be model Patricia Perez-Gonzalez, 26, showed her own assets in string bikinis and sexy outfits to Maxim Magazine‘s Twitter feed. Then she and her boyfriend Alberto Companioni, 31, went to town on other people’s dimes. They indulged in luxury vacations and shopping sprees with credit cards they applied for using identities stolen from seniors.
The fraud victims suffered, losing their money and their credit, while Perez-Gonzales and Companioni partied.
Deputy special agent of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations Steven Schrank put it bluntly. “While the victims were rebuilding their credit and their financial lives, our defendants were travelling around the entire country living it up, living large in resorts and high-end restaurants, purchasing high-end merchandise,” he said.
A search of the couple’s apartment yielded loot from the fraud. The Miami Herald listed Rolex watches, electronics, and handbags, among other items. In the complaint filed in New York state court, the fruits of their fraud were also used for frequent trips to Hawaii, California and New York.
The fraud was remarkably simple. Authorities say the couple got senior citizens’ ID information on the internet. They applied for 40 American Express platinum credit cards using the stolen identities. The credit cards were delivered to vacant houses and picked up there.
The victims had no idea their identities had been stolen and that they were on the hook for huge bills.
The fraudulent credit cards Perez-Gonzalez and Companioni used were manufactured with anti-fraud chip technology.
Another Florida duo, Alejandro Linares Barrios of Miami Beach, and Olaf Odin Azaarian, also got around the credit card chip technology. They were recently caught buying items with counterfeit cards they got from a Russian website, then returning the used items for cash.
According to the FBI, the elderly are often targeted because many of them live on “nest eggs.” Most elders count only on their fixed incomes. Many of them are on the brink of poverty. A loss of savings is often catastrophic for them, choking off their means to buy needed medication, or even food. They tend not to report fraud, though, either because they don’t know where to report or because they are too embarrassed to do so. Embarrassment isn’t a small thing to the elderly. The FBI says the elderly “are concerned that relatives may think the victims no longer have the mental capacity to take care of their own financial affairs.”
Elders’ identities are stolen in a number of different ways. The internet is a versatile tool for thieves. Personal identity information can easily be found there despite safeguards. But as the two recent Florida-based credit card frauds make clear, analogue paths exist around the anti-theft chip technology, too.
Many credit card fraudsters slip through the net. The aspiring model and her boyfriend did not.
Perez-Gonzalez and Companioni face a slew of felony and misdemeanor charges. In addition to felony second, third and fourth-degree grand larceny, they were each charged with felony first- and second-degree identity Theft, and Petit Larceny. They face five to 15 year prison sentences. Though the Miami-Dade Police Department helped investigate, the case was filed in New York, where American Express has its headquarters.
Perez-Gonzalez, aspiring Maxim “hometown hottie,” also had an online boutique called Le Fashion Wheels. It’s believed she sold clothes there that she bought with the fraudulent credit cards. Little is known about Companioni other than his relationship with Perez-Gonzalez and his involvement in the credit card fraud.
[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty]