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July 09, 2010

  • News:  Black Market Travel Agency Ring Busted

    An elaborate identify theft and credit card theft scheme has landed 38 people in jail. According to the authorities, the individuals posed as travel agents and used stolen credit cards to book airline tickets for their customers. One of those arrested was a former "America's Next Top Model" reality show contest, Monique Calhoun. Calhoun didn't make it very far into the contest because she didn't show up for one of the photo shoot. Calhoun became involved when a postal investigator wanted to question her about the credit card that was used to purchase her airline tickets. Her black market travel agent from Chicago asked her to lie to the agent saying Calhoun had purchased the ticket using a money order online. Calhoun and the black market agent now face single counts of making a false statement to a federal agent.

    The black market agents acquired the credit cards through a variety of avenues. Stolen identities of some victims were used to open new card accounts while other card information was purchased online from black market sites which have been linked to Bangladesh and Vietnam. Several of the thieves who worked at hotels, stole card numbers while at work. The agents would sell tickets to customers at greatly reduced prices and then turn around and use the stolen credit card to purchase the ticket. The black market travel agents would waited until it was close to departure time before booking the reservation so the customer would have already taken the trip before the airlines, card company or cardholder discovered the card was stolen. The ring operated from December 2001 until March 2010 before the authorities were able to track them down.

    The ring's demise began when two petty thieves from the Kansas area stole a computer from a private resident. Investigators soon discovered a number of stolen credit card numbers and other related illegal activity on the laptop. The local police seized stolen mail and card numbers which had been used to purchase some of the airline tickets. The total loss to the financial and airline industry as well as the victims is estimated at over $20 million. The defendants were scattered across the country including Georgia, Florida, New York, California, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Michigan while their victims resided in over 40 different U.S. and Canadian cities.

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