A Vietnamese internet crime ring under investigation for a number of white collar crimes including fraud, money laundering and identity theft may have a connection to Minnesota. The federal investigation is being conducted by the United States Department of Homeland Security and is called “Operation eMule.” The crime ring uses hundreds of stolen identities to swindle thousands of dollars from online retailers. Two 22-year-old college students from Winona State University have been linked to the ring by investigators.
According to federal investigator the Vietnam based internet crime ring uses stolen identities to open online accounts with PayPal, eBay and financial institutions. After the online accounts are setup, they are used to sell expensive goods at discounted prices. The sellers from the crime ring obtain the goods they sell by purchasing goods from online retailers like Amazon and Dell with stolen financial accounts. Once the individuals who had their identities stolen realize their financial accounts were used to purchase goods in their name, they dispute the charges with the online retailers who then foot the bill of the scam artists.
The two students from Winona State University have been linked to the internet crime ring as “eMules” or electronic money mules. Money mules use stolen identities to open up financial accounts in the United States and wire received money to accounts that are based abroad and owned by crime ring. One student is linked to opening 24 eBay accounts and opening 56 other accounts under stolen information. Around $247,000 was transferred through these accounts. The other student is linked to opening 310 PayPal accounts and 157 eBay accounts also with stolen identities. Around $1million was transferred with these accounts. A supervisory agent with the FBI has said that often eMules are tricked into participation because they are recruited through seemingly legitimate online job postings.
Source: Star Tribune, “Cyber Crime Trail Leads to Winona State Students,” Dan Browning, 1/1/11