Miami Man Charged In Major Identity Theft Case

The Justice Department on Monday announced charges in what it said was the biggest identity theft and hacking case in history. Prosecutors say Albert Gonzales, 28, of Miami stole information on more than 130 million credit and debit accounts.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now, as Saab works to broaden its brand identity, the Justice Department has staged a giant bust for identify theft. It's called the biggest such rate in its history. Hackers stole more than 130 million credit and debit card numbers.

NPR's Ari Shapiro has our story.

ARI SHAPIRO: The alleged ringleader is a 28-year-old named Albert Gonzales. He and two other men started by reviewing a list of Fortune 500 companies. They visited stores and Web sites to scope out vulnerabilities and then came the attacks. Between 2006 and 2008, hackers stole credit and debit card information from 7/11, Hannaford Brothers Supermarkets and a company called Heartland Payment Systems. Gonzales is already in prison. A year ago, he was charged with similar attacks on the Dave and Buster's Restaurant chain. Separately, he was accused of hacking into the clothing company TJ Maxx's computers. That was the biggest such attack of its time - 45 million victims.

This attack is three times that size. Jennifer Granick of the Electronic Frontier Foundation says this is clearly a growing problem.

Ms. JENNIFER GRANICK (Electronic Frontier Foundation): And I think one of the causes of the problem is that companies have not being careful about creating these treasure troves of customer information.

SHAPIRO: For consumers, there's almost no way to avoid being victimized by this sort of theft, says law Professor Anita Ramasastry of the University of Washington. Once you swipe your credit card, the information is out of your control.

Professor ANITA RAMASASTRY (University of Washington): The magnitude is what worries us because it can happen in an instant that a 130 million numbers can be compromised.

SHAPIRO: The alleged ring leader goes to trial next month for one of the cases he was accused of last year.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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