Toronto Police Service [TPS], has announced the takedown of an organized hierarchy that committed millions of dollars in identity theft and financial frauds, including the seizure of thousands of stolen gift cards.
The prolific and opportunistic criminals were taking advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to defraud individuals and organizations. Investigations have revealed that online fraudsters now use gift cards to scam and steal huge sums of money from individuals and organizations.
Four people Vladislav Tsygabok, 25, of Vaughan, Jamal Karama Sharif, 34, of Newmarket and Toronto, Asmerom Tsegay, 31 of Toronto, and Nadia Campitelli, 46 of no fixed address have been arrested and charged, collectively, they face 100 criminal charges.
This was announced by TPS Inspector Peter Callaghan from the Financial Crimes Unit of the Toronto Police Service on November 1, 2021.
Dubbed Project Hydra, the yearlong investigation led officers to identify a chain of people from low-level identity thieves to counterfeit identification makers and distributors.
Speaking about the major takedown, Inspector Peter Callaghan disclosed that in September 2020, the Toronto Police Financial Crimes Unit began an investigation dubbed ‘project Hydra’ to takedown this hierarchy of online fraudsters.
He revealed that Project Hydra involved a group of individuals who were purchasing identity information and producing identity documents and were opening bank accounts and other financial institutions.
“In the course of these investigations, we also discovered this group was also tampering gift cards from retail merchants and they have a large volume of gift cards that had been tampered with that have financial information on those cards and compromised and already used and placed back in consumer stores for customers to purchase.” He further revealed.
Inspector Peter Callaghan advised consumers to protect themselves with gift cards by making physical examinations of the gift cards. “Examining the back, look at the magnetic strip barrier and the area that is usually covered by the pin. If it looks like it has been tampered with, don’t purchase the card” he warned.
The TPS detective also asked, merchants, to help in preventing this kind of fraud, by placing gift cards behind the cash or protected area of the store, and while he encouraged consumers on when they are making a selection of gift cards to prefer merchants who are placing these gift cards in a secured location..
On prevention of online fraud, he said, “one of the ways we can continue to prevent fraud is by working together and protecting the information that fraudsters will rely upon to commit these offenses by consumers making themselves aware of simple protection measures the security brings to their attention to protect their communities.”
In addition, investigators also discovered a business believed to be involved in the distribution of fraudulent gift cards.
Officers recovered 37,000 gift cards, with potential values of $50 to $500 each, and 1,300 prepaid credit cards, with an estimated value of $216,000.