Federal authorities have arrested 19 people in nine states in an investigation of a transnational criminal organization that bought and sold stolen personal and financial information through online forums.
The organization, based in Las Vegas, engaged in identity theft and counterfeit credit card trafficking, U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden said Friday.
"The extent of the theft and sale of the personal and financial information uncovered by this investigation is astonishing," Bogden said. "Electronic mediums have made it much easier for persons and groups to sell and trade stolen information and fraudulent documents nationally and internationally."
Federal agents on Thursday arrested five people in Las Vegas and 14 others in eight other states, including California, New York and Florida, Bogden said.
The Las Vegas defendants, officials said, are Michael Lofton, 34; David Ray Camez, 20; Duvaughn Butler, 37; Thomas Lamb, 47; and Jonathan Vergnetti, 40.
In all, 50 defendants are charged in three separate indictments from the investigation Operation Open Market.
The charges include racketeering, conspiracy and production and trafficking in false identification documents and access-device cards. More arrests are expected.
Authorities identified the defendants as "members, associates or employees" of a criminal organization called Carder.su.
The organization encouraged members to sell contraband, such as counterfeit documents and stolen bank account information through its websites, authorities said. Various means of communication were used to protect the anonymity of members and prevent detection from rival criminal groups and law enforcement.
The U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations spearheaded the massive probe.
"The actions of computer hackers and identity thieves not only harm countless innocent Americans, but the threat they pose to our financial system and global commerce cannot be understated," said James Dinkins, executive associate director of ICE Homeland Security Investigations. "The criminals involved in such schemes may think they can escape detection by hiding behind their computer screens here and overseas, but as this case shows, cyberspace is not a refuge from justice."