First Data would not comment on the measures it had taken to improve its merchant vetting process, but the company did confirm that it cooperated with the FTC investigation.
To get the money out of the U.S., the scammers had to recruit money mules. These were U.S. residents who were recruited online, often with spam e-mail messages. Under the impression that they were helping offshore businesses, the money mules set up bank accounts and helped the fraudsters move money offshore.
In a letter to the judge presiding over the case, one of the mules, James P. Smith of Brownwood, Texas, says he worked for one of the scammers for four years without realizing that anything illegal was going on. Smith now says he is "ashamed" to be named in the FTC action, and offers to help catch his former boss, who used the name Alex Moore.
The FTC's Wernikoff believes that whoever is responsible for this crime lives outside of the U.S., but with the money-cashing operation now busted up, the scammers will have to start again from scratch, if they want to keep bilking consumers. And criminal investigators now have a trail to follow.
"Does it prevent the people from ultimately responsible from building up again from scratch?" he asked. "No. But we do hope that this seriously disrupts them."
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