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Identity theft ring busted

January 10, 2004|by DAVID DISHNEAU

A team of identity thieves headed by an illegal Chinese immigrant obtained more than $1 million worth of phony credit cards and charged merchandise to people whose account numbers they got off the Internet, police said Friday.

The ring allegedly run by Jian Ping Wang, 38, of Frederick, Md., was one of the biggest in the Washington-Baltimore area, Secret Service Agent Jeff Gappert said.

Wang was jailed in Frederick County, with bail set at $75,000, charged with multiple counts of credit card counterfeiting and illegally possessing equipment to produce credit cards. He had no attorney as of Friday, a district court clerk said.

Police arrested Wang Wednesday in Baltimore County, driving north on Interstate 95 in a 1991 Lincoln Town Car that contained more than 200 fraudulent credit cards, according to Frederick County Sheriff's Detective Michael J. Sabol. Wang told police he had made the cards and was going to New York to sell them, according to court documents.

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A search of his home yielded more than 200 credit card blanks and equipment for making fake credit cards and driver's licenses, according to the sheriff's office.

"There are probably at least 100 victims that may not even know that their identities have been stolen," Deputy Jennifer Bailey, a sheriff's office spokeswoman, said.

Frederick County State's Attorney Scott Rolle said he plans to present evidence against Wang to a grand jury later this month.

"This was an extremely sophisticated operation," he said.

Frederick County authorities obtained a warrant for another suspect, Jackson T. Tiong, 45, of Shepherdstown, W.Va., Bailey said.

Gappert said four other suspected accomplices were arrested in October in Frederick County. They were "runners" who used the fake credit cards to buy merchandise that would typically be sold for cash, he said.

All the suspects had Asian names, Gappert said. Frederick County authorities said Wang was an illegal immigrant from China, but they did not know whether he was from Taiwan or the People's Republic of China.

Gappert and other authorities said the group got victims' credit card numbers off the Internet and used the information to make counterfeit credit cards, open phony accounts at stores and charge merchandise.

Wang had been under investigation at least since December 2002, when he used a New Jersey man's identity on a credit application for an $8,000 diamond ring at a jewelry store at Valley Mall in Hagerstown, Washington County Sheriff's Sgt. Mark Knight said.

The credit issuer, Wells Fargo Bank, called the New Jersey man with a question about the application, which led to Wang's arrest on an identity theft charge in Washington County, Knight said. He said Wang posted $15,000 bond and skipped a subsequent court date, prompting an arrest warrant from Washington County.

A month later, Frederick County authorities heard from a Michigan man who said merchandise worth more than $2,000 had been charged to unauthorized accounts in his name at department stores in Frederick, deputies said.

The Federal Trade Commission said in September that identity theft cost consumers and businesses $53 billion last year. About 9.9 million Americans found that people took money from their bank accounts, or obtained credit cards or official documents in their names, the agency said.

Gappert said all of Wang's alleged victims eventually will be notified as the case proceeds through the courts.

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