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Californians Admit to ID Theft Scheme Targeting Michaels Customers

Schemers Stole PIN Numbers Using Fake Credit Card Machines Installed at 80 Stores
Michaels
The Michaels logo is pictured here. Michaels Stores, Inc.

NEWARK, NJ—On June 20, 27-year-old Angel Angulo admitted his role in a large-scale conspiracy to steal tens of thousands of credit and debit card numbers from customers at Michaels' art supply stores in several states, including NJ.

The scheme involved swapping out point of sale (POS) terminals at various locations with “counterfeit POS devices” that used “wireless technology” to steal card numbers from customers.

The conspiracy took place over six years ago in nineteen states, targeting as many as “88 POS terminals in 80 different stores operated by Michaels,” according to a statement from the US Department of Justice (DoJ).

Angulo, a resident of Riverside, California, collaborated with Crystal Banuelos, a 28-year-old resident of Bloomington, California, among others who were not identified.

Banuelos admitted in 2015 to her part in the conspiracy to steal 94,000 credit and debit cards from those who shopped at the chain that year. She is still awaiting sentencing.

Both now face lengthy federal prison sentences for the two charges against them: Conspiracy to Commit Bank Fraud, and Aggravated Identity Theft.

The first charge carries a maximum potential penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine, while the other includes a mandatory two-year prison sentence, which must be served consecutively to any other sentence.

While the DoJ doesn’t specify the mechanics of how the credit card machines were “replaced” at stores, it’s notable that the ring did not have to physically “retrieve the counterfeit POS devices” from the stores to aquire consumer bank account information, according to the DoJ.

Angulo signed his own plea agreement in March. The document, obtained by New Brunswick Today, includes several pages labeled "Certified Inventory of Evidence," a list of records turned over to federal authorities by the Cinnamainson Township Police Department and at least one financial institution.

It also includes references to many "Blank Access Device[s] Containing Wachovia Written As The Bank And 2803 Written As The Pin Number," for instance.

Authorities cited a three-month period in 2011, when the defendants “compromised” debit and credit card account numbers belonging to patrons who shopped at outposts in NJ and other states.

By May of 2011, the conspirators “obtained Counterfeit Cards with the corresponding PIN numbers written on them from other conspirators,” according to the indictment against Angulo and Banuelos. (Stolen account information was used to produce the counterfeit bank cards, said the DoJ.) 

The two, as well as their co-conspirators, then used the fake cards and stolen PIN's at ATM's in several states, including NJ, to withdraw money “from hundreds of compromised bank accounts.”

The indictment noted that, on or about May 14, 2011, in NJ, the defendants “possessed approximately 179 counterfeit cards containing stolen account information belonging to approximately 179 different individuals.”

The defendants were able to obtain more than $420,000 from several banks including: Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, and TD Bank – but also tried to get as much as “an additional $129,000 from the Financial Institutions,” says the indictment.

Angulo also committed identity theft in Camden County, among other places, while “knowingly” possessing and using the “identification of another person, namely a debit card number ending in … and a corresponding PIN number … to commit bank fraud [conspiracy],” which constitutes a federal felony.

Banuelos also admitted to possessing a specific debit card and corresponding PIN number, and pleaded guilty to Aggravated Identity Theft.

Here are the "allocution questions" that the DoJ requested the Judge ask Banuelos and Angulo to establish their guilt:

FACTUAL BASIS FOR PLEA
In order to establish a factual basis for defendant’s guilty plea, the
Government respectfully suggests that the Court ask the defendant the
following questions:

(1) From in or about April 2011 through in or about May 2011, did
you conspire with others, including Angel Angulo, to defraud
financial institutions by using counterfeit ATM cards and stolen
PIN information to steal from bank accounts by withdrawing
money from ATM machines?

(2) In April 2011 and May 2011 did you, Angel Angulo and others
obtain counterfeit ATM cards with corresponding stolen PIN
numbers written on the counterfeit ATM cards from your
coconspirators?

(3) Did you, Angel Angulo, and others then use these counterfeit ATM
cards and stolen PIN information at ATM machines, including
ATMs located in the District of New Jersey, to withdraw money
from bank accounts without the permission of the account holder?

(4) Did those fraudulent transactions include using a debit card
ending in 2868 with a corresponding PIN number on or about May
14, 2011, to withdraw funds from a bank account without
authorization?

(5) Was it further part of the conspiracy that on or about May 14,
2011, in the District of New Jersey, that you and Angel Angulo
possessed approximately 179 counterfeit ATM cards containing
stolen account information for approximately 179 different
individuals?

(6) Did you take all of these actions knowingly and willfully?

(7) Are you pleading guilty today voluntarily and of your own free will
because you are, in fact, guilty of the offenses charged in Count
One and Count Three of the Superseding Indictment?

FACTUAL BASIS FOR PLEA
In order to establish a factual basis for defendant’s guilty plea, the
Government respectfully suggests that the Court ask the defendant the
following questions:

(1) From in or about April 2011 through in or about May 2011, did
you conspire with others, including Crystal Banuelos, to defraud
financial institutions by using counterfeit ATM cards and stolen
PIN information to steal from the bank accounts of individuals by
withdrawing money from ATM machines?

(2) In April 2011 and May 2011 did you, Crystal Banuelos and others
obtain counterfeit ATM cards with corresponding stolen PIN
numbers written on the counterfeit ATM cards from your
coconspirators?

(3) Did you, Crystal Banuelos, and others then use these counterfeit
ATM cards and stolen PIN information at ATM machines, including
ATMs located in the District of New Jersey, to withdraw money
from people's bank accounts without the permission of the account
holder?

(4) Did those fraudulent transactions include using a debit card
ending in 1969 with a corresponding PIN number on or about May
14, 2011, in the District of New Jersey, to withdraw funds from a
bank account without authorization?

(5) Was it further part of the conspiracy that on or about May 14,
2011, in the District of New Jersey, that you and Crystal Banuelos
possessed approximately 179 counterfeit ATM cards containing
stolen account information for approximately 179 different
individuals?

(6) Did you take all of these actions knowingly and willfully?

(7) Are you pleading guilty today voluntarily and of your own free will
because you are, in fact, guilty of the offenses charged in Count
One and Count Two of the Indictment?