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The Associated Press November 18, 2011, 1:21PM ET

NY ID-theft ring recruited waiters to steal info

An ambitious and organized identity-theft ring recruited waiters at steakhouses and other high-end restaurants to steal diners' credit-card information, then used it for luxury shopping sprees, authorities said Friday.

Some 27 people have been indicted on racketeering and other charges. Arraignments were ongoing Friday.

The group had waiters use so-called "skimming" devices to copy at least 50 restaurant-goers' credit-card data surreptitiously while running their tabs at such powerhouse eateries as Smith & Wollensky and Wolfgang's Steakhouse, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said. His office, the New York Police Department and the U.S. Secret Service built the case.

The ring made up counterfeit credit cards with the stolen information, then had associates fan out to buy watches, handbags and other merchandise at luxury stores including Chanel, Neiman Marcus and Cartier, authorities said. The group manufactured fake drivers' licenses to back up its shoppers' phony identities, and ringleaders accompanied them to direct the purchases, prosecutors said.

The group kept some of the loot for its own use and sold the rest, sometimes stashing it in a Manhattan storage locker, authorities said. They said they seized luxury watches, a cache of expensive wine and more than $1 million in cash in various searches in the case.

The actual credit-card holders ultimately didn't end up having to pay for the items, authorities said.

"The high-end targets of this case make it notable, but, disturbingly, this case is far from unique," Vance said in a statement. The announcement came two days after his office announced indictments of three men accused of planting skimming devices and video cameras to capture ATM users' bank-card numbers and passwords.

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