Five people – including two foreign nationals – face federal charges for stealing the identity of about 3,000 veterans from across the United States. The suspects face 14 charges, including wire fraud and aggressive identity theft.
U.S. Attorneys for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio announced on Wednesday the arrest of five people involved in the scheme that gleaned the personally identifiable information of veterans off the Department of Veterans Affairs eBenefits system and other online portals. The servers for the VA’s eBenefits are in San Antonio, which is why the case will be prosecuted here.
The five people arrested include Robert Wayne Boling, Frederick Brown, Trorice Crawford, all U.S. citizens; Allan Albert Kerr an Australian citizen, and Jongmin Seok, a South Korean citizen.
A federal indictment unsealed on Wednesday claims the five were working together to steal the information and access the bank accounts of the veterans.
Prosecutors initially said the number of veterans affected could be about 3,300, but that is a “ball park” figure.
“That could change over time,” said U.S. Attorney John Bash. “As you start learning more about a scheme you might come into contact with more evidence that says it’s significantly larger than that.”
He added that doesn’t mean that all 3,300 veterans had money stolen from them.
Six victims were listed by initials only in the indictment. Officials did not give a figure of how much money was taken, only saying it was in the range of “millions” of dollars. Disabled and elderly veterans and senior military officers were targeted according to prosecutors.
Bash said the scheme began in 2014 when Brown — a former medical records technician at USAG-Yongsan, a U.S. Army base in South Korea — accessed veterans' personal information including social security numbers and birthdates.
“And he would simply take a camera and take a screenshot of [personally identifiable information] contained in those records on his computer screen,” Bash said.
Brown is accused of then sending the information to his co-conspirators including Boling, in the Philippines. Bash identified Boling as the mastermind of the scheme.
Kerr and Seok, also in the Philippines, worked with Boling to use that information to access Department of Defense and VA websites and databases with the goal of diverting money from veterans bank accounts, Bash alleged.
Brown was employed at the South Korean base from 2010 to 2015 when he was fired for an unrelated offence, Bash said.
Prosecutors accuse the men of using the data to enter entering the VA’s eBenefits website, where they obtained bank account information like account and routing numbers.
In some cases they even called the banks and they would use call spoofing software which made it look like the call was coming from the veterans own phone number,” Bash said. “In some cases, they actually talked to bank officials and posed as the veterans.”
He added they were able to direct money into their own accounts using that information.
Crawford, who was listed as a “money mule” in the indictment was arrested in San Diego; Brown was arrested in Las Vegas.
Boling, Kerr and Seok were arrested in the Philippines with the help of the Philipino National Bureau of Investigation and Pilipino immigration authorities.
The Department of Justice plans to make contact with affected veterans through the MegaVictim Case Assistance Program.
“Victim resources will be made available to them in addition we expect that DoD and VA are going to be providing separate notifications to the victims. We understand that in many cases, if not most cases, the victims had been made whole either by financial institutions or by DoD or VA,” Bash said.