Investigators busted an identity theft ring that operated inside Saks Fifth Avenue and used credit cards from unknowing shoppers to buy hundreds of thousands of dollars in goods from the store and resell them on the black market.
Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance indicted yesterday Tamara Williams, 37, of Bellerose, and four alleged accomplices who worked at the Saks flagship midtown store Monday on several charges including grand larceny and unlawful possession of stolen property for the scheme that lasted for six months.
Three other alleged accomplices posing as shopping had been previously charged.
The ring, allegedly led by Williams, used the credit card information from customers to buy $400,000 in shoes and bags from high-end designers such as Valentino, Louis Vuitton and Gucci, and then sell most of the goods for cash or gift cards, according to Vance.
"This is hardly the ordinary stolen property case," Vance explained at a news conference, in which some of the stolen 200 pairs of shoes and 80 bags were on display.
"It's a group of individuals who were obviously focused on high-value objects to receive high-value return on the black market," he said.
Williams, who allegedly kept some of the goods for herself, obtained the social security numbers, date of birth and credit card information from more than 20 Saks customers and gave them to accomplices who would the info to pose as those shoppers, Vance said.
Those impostor shoppers, three of whom were arrested prior to yesterday's announcement, would then work with Saks sales associates who were allegedly in on the scheme to purchase the goods with the stolen information. Vance said the ring members would enter the credit card numbers into computers to complete the transactions, one of which one pair of $2,000 shoes.
Williams would meet the shoppers and take the shoes and bags to sell on the black market or return them to the store in exchange for gift cards, Vance said.
The about 91 illegal transactions took place between April and September when Saks Fifth Avenue staff discovered the scheme over the last few weeks and alerted the authorities, according to the DAs office. The other suspects arraigned Monday included Kriss Rockson, 46, of Queens; Jason Chance, 25, of Valley Stream; Alaia Harrison, 21, of Queens; and Michael Knight-Williams, 44, of Queens.
The U.S. Secret Service and Dept. of Homeland Security are investigating more suspects who may be involved.
Attorney information for the defendants was not as available as of press t
Vance pushed for more businesses, big and small, to go to the police if they suspect identity theft instead of trying to solve the problem on their own.
"It has been said there two types of businesses in America. Ones that have been hacked and those who don't know they've been hacked," he said.
The district attorney, who revealed Mondayhe was a victim of identity theft six months ago, also pushed Albany to strengthen the state's identity theft laws. The laws were made a decade ago and Vance called them "inadequate," because they don't give harsh punishments for convicted suspects.
"We need better tools to fight them," he said.