Bloods gang members used social media images of stacks of cash and criminals lounging in hot tubs to lure hundreds of young people into a million-dollar counterfeit checking and debit card scheme, police and prosecutors said on Wednesday.
The “debit-card cracking” scheme used Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat to recruit holders of more than 650 bank accounts where phony checks could be deposited to fund withdrawals before the fakes were detected, said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.
“What the defendants are selling is a fast-money lifestyle,” Vance said at a news conference. “The scheme is designed to attract younger folks anxious to make a quick buck . . . using social media.”
One of the images used to entice cooperative account holders — many of them high school and college students — showed a woman holding fans of $100 bills with Ben Franklin gazing out in front of her face and chest.
Another, from the account of “JefeBalla,” shows a smiling, tattooed man lounging in a hot tub with the message, “Get Money & Enjoy Life.” A third showed a happy-looking man lounging in the driver’s seat of a car with the message, “The Don.”
Vance and NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said the six ringleaders of the scheme — who called themselves “plugs” — and a group of so-called “recruiters” used postings that showed a luxurious lifestyle and invited inquiries.
They then used stolen information to write counterfeit checks and deposit them in the accounts of volunteers. Account holders — who have not been charged — were promised a cut of the profits for cooperating and providing a debit card to make quick withdrawals.
Altogether, $2.5 million in counterfeit checks were deposited and $1 million was withdrawn from various accounts at seven major banks, but all in modest sums per account. The most taken out of a single account was $20,000 over a week, officials said.
Boyce said the NYPD first got onto the case when one of the so-called “complicit account holders” reported her debit card had been stolen to try to cover up her cooperation in the scheme. Detectives were suspicious of her story, and she finally laid out the scam under questioning.
Charges were filed Wednesday against 39 participants — including the six ringleaders, all Staten Island men in their 20s, as well as recruiters, runners who carried out the illegal deposits and withdrawals, and an enforcer. Twenty-six were in custody and scheduled to be presented in State Supreme Court in Manhattan.
Vance said the investigation was ongoing and no final decision had been made on whether to prosecute complicit account holders.