A couple from Florida have been charged with running an identity theft scam that stole from numerous victims throughout the country — all to fund a life of luxury.
Alberto Companioni, 31, and Patricia Perez-Gonzalez, 26, were indicted on Tuesday for their roles in a credit card and identity theft scheme that resulted in about $2 million in fraud, according to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.
The couple was charged on March 18 with grand larceny, identity theft and other charges.
According to prosecutors, between 2014 and 2016, Companioni and Perez-Gonzalez used American Express credit cards with chip technology that were created using stolen personal information from victims across the United States. The duo used the cards to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on vacations, designer merchandise, luxury vehicles and other expenses.
The American Express accounts were opened online using personal information from victims — primarily senior citizens — who were unaware that their names, birth dates and social security numbers had been stolen and used to open fake accounts, authorities said.
The credit cards were then allegedly shipped to various locations across the country, mainly to vacant homes and properties, and then were picked up by the duo and other accomplices.
Prosecutors added that the credit cards were opened in the names of over 40 victims and used by the couple and co-conspirators to rack up more than $2 million in charges and attempted charges. One of the accomplices currently lives in South America, and is suspected of working with Companioni and Perez-Gonzalez to arrange the scheme.
According to authorities, Companioni and Perez-Gonzalez used the credit cards to pay for trips to New York, California, Hawaii and other destinations where they additionally paid for expensive meals, nights out at popular clubs and shopping sprees at designer stores such as Hermes, Burberry and Louis Vuitton.
The duo also allegedly used the cards to buy electronic devices — such as Apple products — to resell to buyers overseas.
Perez-Gonazalez — who according to the New York Daily News is a bikini model — also allegedly used the cards to buy wholesale items that she later resold on her retail clothing website called “Le Fashion Wheels.”
Authorities executed search warrants at various properties in Miami and found dozens of credit cards in victims’ names, credit reports in various names, forged identification and licenses, a credit card encoder, blank credit cards and phones labeled with victims’ names. Merchandise — which was bought with the cards — was also found including a Rolex watch, racing bikes, Chanel bags and other designer clothes.
“The scope of the alleged fraud required the defendants and their co-conspirators to construct a network using stolen information to circumvent typical safeguards intended to prevent fraud, such as chip-enabled credit cards,” Vance said. “Across the country, the defendants spared no expense while enjoying the use of credits cards opened in their victims’ names and inflicting damage on their credit. Credit card fraud of this type is becoming increasingly common, and I encourage individuals to monitor their credit reports and financial statements for any unauthorized or suspicious activity.”
Vance said the method of fraud used by the accused allows them to run up “significant lines of credit” with no plan to pay off any charges and in most cases the victims were unaware of the large amounts of outstanding debt linked to them.