Nassau Educators Federal Credit Union was one of five credit unions targeted by a suspected loan fraud ring, which tried to steal more than $1 million by applying for loans using stolen identities, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas’ Office said.
Other credit unions affected were Pentagon Federal Credit Union, Digital Credit Union, Comtrust Federal Credit Union and Navy Federal Credit Union.
Five individuals, from Queens, Brooklyn and New Jersey, were arrested in February for their alleged roles in the credit fraud scheme, the DA said.
The five face charges of grand larceny, identity theft and scheme to defraud, according to the criminal complaints filed by the Nassau DA. One of the accused, who worked at a bank, is charged with falsifying business records and unlawful possession of personal identification information.
The complaint said the defendants attempted to steal over $1 million, but only managed to plunder $250,000.
The Nassau Educators Federal Credit Union, with branches across Long Island, initially catered to those in the education field but has expanded to serve a diverse range of professions, from accountants to hospital employees.
Singas’ office said the amount of stolen funds the defendants are alleged to have obtained is expected to rise as the investigation continues, as well as the number of identified victims, which is currently about 500 people.
The hundreds of targeted individuals were not just from New York, the office said. Some victims were from California, Texas, Minnesota, Illinois and Virginia, among other places.
Upon their arrest, investigators confiscated hundreds of files containing victims’ personal and financial information, credit reports, fake identification cards, a cash counting machine, cash wrappers, computers, phones and cash, the district attorney said.
Uncovered evidence has found that ring members created profiles where they compiled the affected individuals’ information, ran their credit reports and obtained further information on them from the Dark Web.
The defendants allegedly selected their victims from information obtained from hospital and school websites, among other sources.
According to Singas, Dacson Sears of Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, was found to have submitted more than 100 loan applications at the affected credit unions using identities of account members with good credit.
Sears, the purported ring leader, operates and owns Sears Credit Advisory Counseling LLC, which he runs from his Brooklyn apartment, the DA said. He applied for all of these loans within the span of a year.
Fraudulent loans were taken out for amounts ranging from $7,500 to $35,000, according to the district attorney, and were applied for electronically using the names and Social Security numbers of the affected individuals.
“The effects of this type of fraud are devastating for those who have to reclaim their identities and the banks that have to recoup financial losses,” Singas said in a statement. “This investigation, one of the largest identity theft cases we have ever investigated, highlights the importance of strong working relationships among all levels of law enforcement.”
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service jointly investigated the case with the Nassau County District Attorney’s office.
Summer Aboushady of Jackson Heights, Queens, worked as a banker at Capital One, where she is accused of stealing bank account information and selling it to ring members, according to court documents.
She also opened fraudulent bank accounts with the stolen identities in order for Sears to deposit the funds he received from the loans, prosecutors said.
The district attorney’s office said employees of the targeted credit unions began to suspect fraudulent activity when they noticed that certain loans had outstanding payments. After further investigation, they discovered that the borrowers of these loans were victims of identity theft.
Nassau Educators Federal Credit Union reported its discovery to the offices of the Nassau DA and the Postal Inspection Service.
Other accused members of the fraud ring include Nyantaki Boateng of Perth Amboy, N.J., Konstantinos Toikas of Fort Hamilton and Amber Mantock of Astoria, Queens, the DA’s office said.
They, along with Sears, allegedly withdrew the loan money from ATMs and then used the funds for personal expenses, according to the charges.
Postal Service Inspector in Charge Philip R. Bartlett said in a statement: “This ‘gang ‘of thieves conspired to steal financial DNA of their unknowing victims and manipulate financial institution’s lending practices to greedily pad their pockets.”
Sears, Aboushady and Boateng are to appear at the Nassau First District Court on March 29. Mantock is to appear again April 2 and Toikas is due back April 5.