Over the past seven years, a New York City-based fraud ring allegedly stole more than $19 million worth of iPhones by posing as cellphone subscribers to get new devices at little or no cost. The six people authorities say ran the ring would then sell the stolen phones on the black market, getting away with the scam for years, according to a now-unsealed complaint originally filed by federal prosecutors at the end of April.
The defendants are charged with felony counts of mail fraud, conspiracy, and aggravated identity theft. Details of the previously unreported case are being published for the first time by Quartz.
The scheme’s victims included untold numbers of customers whose accounts were used by the ring, as well as the (unnamed) carriers themselves, which typically bore the losses. The crew’s operation was relatively simple, say court filings: Associates using fake IDs and counterfeit debit cards went to mobile phone stores and posed as the legitimate account holders, looking to upgrade to new phones on their existing accounts. They would spread payments out over many months, which would come as a surprise on the actual customer’s next bill. By then the scammers, and the devices, were already long gone… Quartz