“Clear gods” defraud thousands in cell upgrade scheme, causing $28M in losses

Delano Bush, 34, a man from Southfield, Michigan, pleaded guilty to taking a role in a multi-million-dollar cell phone upgrade wire fraud conspiracy. The criminals, calling themselves “Clear Gods,” used stolen personal information to purchase thousands of new phones on credit.

The uncovered wire fraud scheme involved more than 26,000 fraudulent transactions and resulted in a loss of more than $28,000,000, according to the announcement by US Attorney Dawn N. Ison.

Since at least June 2017, and continuing through at least September 2019, Bush, with others, calling themselves “Clear Gods,” fraudulently obtained the personal information of their victims, opened accounts in the names of stolen IDs, and used them to purchase cellular devices on credit. Bush entered his guilty plea on December 6th.

“Today’s guilty plea marks a significant event in a years-long investigation and prosecution. As this case shows, identity theft is constantly evolving, and fraudsters continue to find new ways to use and abuse their victims’ personal information,” said US Attorney Ison.

Bush faces a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment on the charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The plea agreement also requires Bush to pay restitution to AT&T in the minimum amount of $1,500,000. Sentencing is set for April 25th, 2024.

In September, a federal grand jury in Detroit indicted and charged seven individuals with conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The aggravated identity theft and fraud scheme spanned multiple states.

The “Clear Gods” first purchased individuals’ personally identifiable information (PII) from various locations, including from “dumpsites” on the internet, and then used them to open cellular accounts with AT&T. After passing the credit check, they would add themselves or associates as “authorized users” on fraudulent accounts and charge devices to the customer accounts.

Only then would they enter various retail stores, mostly Apple’s, in different states to “upgrade” the service lines, charging new devices to fraudulent accounts.

“The defendants would then reverse or “clear” the upgrades from the service lines, often allowing them to repeat the previous step of the scheme at another Apple store location,” the US Attorney’s Office’s press release reads.

The conspirators obtained credentials and impersonated AT&T Retail Sales employees when calling the support hotline to open new accounts. As the scheme advanced, they went so far as to steal AT&T-networked devices, mostly tablet computers, from retail sales employees. Sometimes, conspirators resorted to strong-armed tactics.

“Throughout the scheme, the defendants routinely sought out and worked with corrupt AT&T retail store employees,” the document reads.

The case was investigated by agents from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with assistance from the Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General, Police, and other institutions.

“Cooperation between federal, state, and local partners is essential to successfully investigating and prosecuting these complex fraud operations,” said HSI Detroit Special Agent in Charge Angie M. Salazar. “By putting a stop to these schemes, HSI special agents and our partners help protect the livelihoods of hard-working Americans both here in Michigan and across the country.”

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