24-year-old Vietnamese national Hieu Minh Ngo has pleaded guilty to wire fraud, access device fraud and identity fraud. Ngo was arrested in February 2013 by US authorities as he entered the country. He was charged in October 2013.The Department of Justice hasn’t said anything about the guilty plea, but Brian Krebs has obtained a copy of the transcript from the court proceeding.
Krebs has conducted a thorough investigation into Ngo’s operations. The man was operating an ID theft service through websites like Superget.info and findget.me.
The criminal services were fueled with data stolen from Court Ventures, a company that had an information exchange agreement with US Info Search.
The fraudster tricked Court Ventures into giving him access to the personal details of US citizens by claiming he was a private investigator from Singapore. He regularly paid Court Ventures via cash wire transfers for access to customer records.
In March 2012, Experian, one of the three major US credit companies, acquired Court Ventures. However, Experian learned of Ngo’s activities only nine months later, after being notified by the US Secret Service.
US authorities say the Vietnamese national had over 1,300 customers who paid him a total of at least $1.9 million (€1.25 million) between 2007 and the time of his arrest. Ngo provided his customers with social security numbers, dates of birth, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and other information.
The man had access to the details of 200 million Americans. In the 18-month period prior to his arrest, 3.1 million queries were made on the fraudster’s websites.
However, Krebs highlights the fact that each query produced more than one result (in some cases, up to 10 results). This means that the records of as many as 30 million citizens might have been exposed.
Ngo’s customers used the information for fraudulent tax returns, opening new lines of credit and other types of fraud.
Interestingly, during the hearing, Ngo told the judge that he heard voices in his head. He took prescription drugs for a while, but they weren’t working, so he stopped. His lawyer said he didn’t know anything about his client’s medical problems.
On the other hand, Ngo said the voices didn’t urge him to commit crimes. Instead, he claims that when it’s quiet, he hears “haunted stuff, ghosts, evil.”
Ngo will be sentenced on June 16. He faces up to 45 years in prison and he could be ordered to pay a fine.