NEW YORK—Federal prosecutors have formally charged five members of an identity theft ring who allegedly purchased $400,000 worth of designer shoes, handbags, and other accessories from a Saks Fifth Avenue store using stolen credit card information.
Tamara Williams, the ringleader of the scheme, worked with four other sales associates at the Saks Fifth Avenue store in New York City to steal more than 200 pairs of shoes and 80 handbags and accessories between April and August of this year, using the credit card and personal information of over 20 Saks customers.
Most of the stolen items were resold on the black market or returned to the store in exchange for gift cards, but Williams had also set aside a cache of the stolen goods for personal use.
The police found hundreds of boxes of luxury goods from brands like Chanel, Valentino, and Gucci in a raid on Williams’ home in Queens in September. The retail value of the most expensive pair of shoes stolen found was more than $2,000, and the most expensive handbag $10,000.
“This is hardly the ordinary stolen property case, it’s a group of individuals who were focusing on high-value objects to receive high-value returns on the black market,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance.
The operation did not involve physical credit cards, but required the associates working with Williams to enter the stolen cards’ information from Saks customers to make the purchases. Sometimes the group used a stolen Social Security number and date of birth when impersonating shoppers in the Saks’ Customer Loyalty Program.
Accomplices would often pose as shoppers to receive the prepaid items to try and fool the department’s security cameras, and sometimes the sales associates would register a purchase with no customer at the cash register. They would later deliver the merchandise to Williams in a hair salon or gas station in Queens.
Williams and the four other Saks associates—Kris Rockson, Jason Chance, Michael Knight-Williams, and Alaia Harrison—are expected to be arraigned in court on Monday afternoon, Vance said. Three of Williams’ accomplices posing as shoppers have already been arraigned.
“The identity theft ring that has been working here would not have been possible without insiders at Saks,” Vance said. “Time after time again you see insiders at companies enable theft to occur. Just in the past few years, in Manhattan, we have seen prosecutions involving workers in fast-food chains, high-end steakhouses, retail stores…hospitals, banks, and even nursing homes.”
The district attorney used the Saks case to call for criminal-justice reforms to help prosecutors fight identity theft, which he said was the fastest growing crime his office faced.
“All of the defendants in this case are charged with identity theft in the first degree,” Vance said. “However, under current laws–which were largely written more than a decade ago–a criminal who uses the identity of one victim to steal $2,000 is facing the same top charge as the defendant who assumes the identity of 250 victims to steal $500,000.”
He called for lengthier sentences for perpetrators who stole greater amounts—in effect, aggregating the “theft amount across victims”—so that identity theft charges would better “reflect the enormous impact” the crime has on customers and businesses.
5 Signs That You Could Be a Victim of Identity Theft
1. You have errors in your paper or online bank or credit statement. – This is the most glaring warning of identity theft—you see records of a purchase, check, or online transaction you didn’t make.
2. Your scheduled bank statement didn’t show up in the mail. – Someone may be stealing copies of your financial statements to develop a profile of your spending habits.
3. You get mail that you never signed up for. – An ID thief may have signed up for a credit card in your name and forgot to intercept the mail.
4. Your Social Security statement shows more income than you expected. – Often, Social Security numbers are stolen to register for jobs under a fake name.
5. You get a notice that your personal information has been leaked. – The security breach is for a service you never signed up for.