Feds slash $2.7 million online loan-fraud scheme

More than 2,000 victims believed to have lost $2.7 million to Web-based crime ring

A crime ring using fake websites and online ads to lure thousands of victims into their loan-fraud scheme that robbed them of millions of dollars has been disrupted by federal authorities.

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A federal grand jury in Buffalo yesterday returned a 62-count indictment against 32 defendants residing in Michigan, New York and Canada accused of defrauding what could be more than 2,000 victims who lost $2.7 million in a loan-fraud scheme carried out since 2005. It was all based on fake Internet advertising that often mimicked the names of actual financial firms to make it seem legitimate.

Federal authorities yesterday said they've arrested 10 of the defendants, though others are at large, charging them with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and launder money.

"As a result of this investigation by Homeland Security Investigations, a major international criminal network has been disrupted," said John Morton, director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whose Homeland Security Investigations (HIS) division in Buffalo, N.Y. went after the online crime ring with help from the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Western District of New York.

The ring allegedly fooled loan applicants through numerous websites and search engines to get them to apply for loans, then told them they were approved, then directed them to make an initial security deposit payment through Western Union to money couriers so the crooks could get the victim's funds. But the victims never received loans or refunds of their money.

When victims realized they had been scammed, the crime ring operating the websites abandoned the old sites for new fictional companies, with online listings that included fake addresses.

The defendants named in the indictment are: Brynell Jones, 31, of Detroit; Shardonya Fletcher, 26, of Detroit; Gerri Britton, 40, of Wyandotte, Mich; Candice McGraw, 22, of Grand Rapids, Mich.; Sherece Payne, 22, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Deborah Boshears, 40, of Wyandotte, Mich.; Ashely Cain, 21, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Luna Noncent, 23, of Brooklyn, N.Y., Kevin Chenevare, 33, of Wyandotte, Mich; and Dianne Jaichon, 36, of Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

The U.S. government is seeking the arrest of other defendants in Canada under international treaties, and all the defendants could face 20 years in prison or more, a $250,000 fine and other penalties, if convicted in federal court. One defendant has already pleaded guilty to wire fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced in August.

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG publication and website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security.

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