Police eavesdropping on New York service staff lifting credit card data from residents and foreign tourists have made the biggest identity theft bust of its kind in U.S. history.
"Operation Swiper" indicted 111 people from Queens, who used mainly used Russian, Mandarin and Arabic to communicate and specialized in selling Apple electronics overseas, Reuters reports.
More than $13 million was spent on iPads and iPhones, as well as watches and handbags from Gucci and Louis Vuitton, CBS cited the authorities as saying.
Thieves spent the most time buying computer products from Apple, CBS quotes NYPD deputy inspector Gregory Antonsen as saying.
"This is primarily an Apple case," Antonsen said. "Apple is a big ticket item and a very easy sell."
Police reportedly seized Apple computer products worth tens of thousands of dollars, as well as $850,000 worth of computer equipment stolen from the Citigroup Building in Queens, $650,000 in cash, seven handguns and a truckload of designer shoes, watches and identity theft equipment.
The two-year investigation revealed the five Queens-based crime rings busted — including restaurants and at least one bank — had ties to larger syndicates in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and eastern Asia, Reuters quotes Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly as saying.
"The schemes and the imagination of these thieves is mind boggling," Kelly said New York City at a press conference.
"These crimes are getting more sophisticated and thieves have amazing knowledge of how to use technology."
Credit card numbers were stolen online and via a process called skimming, in which workers take information from a card when its swiped for payment and illegally sell the credit card numbers.
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.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, reportedly called it the largest fraud case he'd seen in his two decades in office.
Queens, Reuters reports, is "the nation's most ethnically diverse county, where 138 languages are spoken and more than half the population is foreign born," Reuters reports.
Antonsen, meanwhile, said the less sophisticated U.S. credit cards were relatively easy for criminals to forge U.S.
In Europe, credit cards have computer chips, credit card fraud is much harder to get away with.