(CBS/AP) NEW YORK - Bank tellers, restaurant workers and other service employees in New York City lifted credit card data from residents and foreign tourists as part of an identity theft ring that stretched out to China, Europe and the Middle East and victimized thousands, authorities said Friday.
In total, 111 people were arrested and more than 85 are in custody; others are still being sought. Five separate criminal enterprises operating out of Queens were dismantled. They were hit with hundreds of charges, said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, calling it the largest fraud case he'd ever seen in his two decades in office.
"These weren't holdups at gunpoint, but the impact on victims was the same," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said. "They were robbed."
The enterprise had been operating since at least 2010 and included at least one bank and restaurants, mostly in Queens.
Operatives in the various industries would steal credit card numbers in a process known as skimming, in which workers take information from a card when its swiped for payment and illegally sell the credit card numbers. Other members of the scam would steal card information online.
The numbers were then given to teams of manufacturers, who would forge Visas, MasterCards, Discover and American Express cards. Realistic identifications were made with the stolen data.
The plastic would be given to teams of criminal "shoppers" for spending sprees at higher-end stores. The groups would then resell the merchandise oversees to locations in China, Europe and the Middle East.
More than $13 million was spent on iPads, iPhones, watches, handbags from Gucci and Louis Vuitton, authorities said.
The charges include enterprise corruption, theft and grand larceny. Many of the accused members of the theft ring are being held on steep bail.