They offered to set up clients with fake IDs.
A passport or driver’s license could be purchased for $30, and several New Jersey residents bought them on-line, along with a phony non-immigrant visa, authorities said.
It was all part of a world-wide clearing house for the kind of documents needed to open accounts at banks, payment processors, social media sites, and digital currency platforms, say federal prosecutors — who also claim that Russian operatives who targeted the 2106 Presidential election were among the customers.
On Thursday, two Pakistani men identified as the brains behind the enterprise were named in a six-count federal indictment unsealed in New Jersey, charging them with aggravated identity theft, conspiracy to produce and transfer false identification documents and other related charges.
According to Acting U.S. Attorney Rachel Honig in Newark, the men dealt with counterfeit passports, driver’s licenses, and national identity cards associated with more than 200 countries and territories around the world.
“The indictment alleges a global scheme to produce fraudulent identity documents that other wrongdoers then used to further additional illegal activity, including activity intended to interfere with U.S. elections,” Honig said in a statement.
According to the indictment, the men allegedly accepted more than $1.5 million just in Bitcoin transfers from customers, in connection with more than 20,000 separate transactions.
The online operation was based out of Karachi, authorities said, using the names “SecondEye Solution” and “Forwarderz,” and advertised services on cyber hacker forums.
They didn’t promise the documents would open doors, authorities said. Only that they would look real.
One customer, for example, was trying to register an account and needed a Social Security card.
“How would that work if they ask for it?” the individual asked in an email.
According to the indictment, SecondEye responded in broken English, ’’We can make ssn [social security number] document which number you provide us. We do not provide guarantee for any documents but our customers did many times by using our documents. What we provide is just original looking documents.”
The men charged in the case also claimed that SecondEye documents could be used by those who had been banned or suspended to restore access to their online accounts, prosecutors said. They alleged some SecondEye customers used the false documents to commit and facilitate the commission of various cyber crimes and other criminal conduct.
No specifics were provided. But according to the indictment, a member of the Internet Research Agency, a Russian organization that prosecutors said engaged in operations to interfere with elections and political processes — including the 2016 U.S. presidential election — purchased multiple false identification documents from SecondEye in the names of real and fictitious U.S. persons.
It said the fake IDs were later used as supporting documents for accounts previously operated by the Internet Research Agency at a social media company.
Separately, the U.S. Treasury Department, in announcing new sanctions Thursday against Russia over its alleged efforts to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election, also took aim at SecondEye.
Officials claimed that the Pakistan-based organization assisted the Internet Research Agency in concealing its identity to evade sanctions. They added that the fraudulent documents produced by SecondEye “are likely used at many online services to evade sanctions and anti-money laundering screening protocols beyond what Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has been able to identify.
In the indictment that was unsealed in New Jersey, prosecutors said other customers used the fake documents to defraud payment processing companies, e-commerce businesses, and virtual currency exchanges, gaining access to customer accounts that previously had been revoked or suspended.
The U.S. seized three domestically-hosted domain names used by SecondEye.
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