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Financial Crimes

Maryland resident pleads guilty in credit card fraud scheme involving more than 50 victims

Skimmed data from retail customers' credit cards where he worked

BALTIMORE — Tri Tran, aka Tony, 35, a citizen of Vietnam unlawfully in the country and residing in Maryland, pleaded guilty Friday to mail fraud in connection with a scheme to skim credit card account data and re-encode the data onto different credit cards used to buy merchandise at retail stores. As a result of the scheme, more than 50 victims incurred losses totaling more than $70,000.

The guilty plea follows an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore; U.S. Secret Service, Baltimore Field Office; Harford County Sheriff's Office and the assistance of the Harford County State's Attorney Office.

According to his plea, beginning in 2009 through Feb. 28, 2011, co-conspirator Nghia Nguyen, 35, a Vietnamese citizen residing in Santa Ana, Calif., mailed an electronic skimming device to Tran in Maryland, who used the device at the business where he was employed to access data from customer credit cards. During 2009, Tran mailed Nguyen the skimming device approximately twice a month, typically when the data of five to 15 credit cards were stored on the skimmer. This pace picked up slightly in 2010 and in 2011 there were about four or five exchanges prior to his arrest. Tran would also mail several credit cards bearing his name to Nguyen.

Nguyen would then extract the data from the skimmer and re-encode the magnetic strip of the other cards with the victims' data. Nguyen would then send Tran three or four re-encoded cards in return, and Tran would use these cards, typically for one or two transactions at about $200 per transaction before the accounts were shut down. This process was repeated several times over the course of the scheme.

On Jan. 14, 2011, the Harford County Sheriff's Office began investigating a complaint related to credit card skimming activity at the retail location where Tran worked. On Feb. 28, 2011, Tran's residence was searched and HSI special agents seized computer equipment and peripheral devices used in the creation of the fraudulent credit cards.

Tran faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for mail fraud at his May 24 sentencing before U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar.

Nguyen previously pleaded guilty to his participation in the scheme and was sentenced Dec. 17, 2012, to six years in prison.

Today's announcement is part of efforts underway by President Obama's Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, which was created November 2009 to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. attorneys' offices and state and local partners, it's the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud. Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other organizations. Over the past three fiscal years, the Justice Department has filed more than 10,000 financial fraud cases against nearly 15,000 defendants including more than 2,700 mortgage fraud defendants. For more information on the task force, visit www.stopfraud.gov.

HSI Orange County, the Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Postal Inspection Service in California, City of Orange Police Department, Costa Mesa Police Department and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California assisted in the investigation.

The case is being prosecuted by Judson T. Mihok.