PokerFraudAlert owner Todd Witteles has disclosed via social media that the online-banking fraud spree that targeted dozens of well-known poker pros in October and November has been traced to an organized fraud ring operating out of San Diego County in southern California.
The spree, in which up to $10,000 per victim was transferred out of victims’ banking accounts through the casino-operated VIP Preferred direct-deposit network operated by Las Vegas-based Global Payments Gaming Solutions, remains officially unsolved, though Witteles’ posts declare that the perpetrators have been identified in general terms and a criminal investigation is ongoing.
” I can now publicly confirm that the culprits behind the @BetMGM, @ViejasCasino, and @GlobalPayInc bank thefts were an organized fraud ring based out of San Diego County,” Witteles posted. “An estimated 50-100 poker pros had money stolen from their bank accounts via a huge security hole in Oct/Nov.”
Witteles then added, “I was one of the early victims of this. The fraudsters stole $10,000 from my bank account on October 20th, via a gaping and obvious security hole in @BetMGM and the @GlobalPayInc VIP Preferred service.”
Besides Witteles, other prominent poker pros who are known victims of the fraud include Joseph Cheong, Kyna England, Kathy Liebert, Brock Wilson, David Bach, Sam Panzica, Melissa Burr, and Clayton Maguire. Witteles, who has conducted his own investigation into the fraud, has confirmed that other well-known players were victimized but have chosen not to reveal that publicly at this time.
Most of the victims in the case suffered insult added to injury earlier this month when VIP Preferred parent Global Payments sent collection letters to players who had managed, through their personal banks, to recover all or some of the stolen funds from that company.
Burner phones used as part of fraud scheme
Witteles has released few other details from his personal investigation and his communications with Global Payments and enforcement officials. He did disclose, however, that the fraudsters purchased inexpensive “burner” phones and used the related phone numbers within the scheme, in which bogus accounts were created in certain casinos’ online deposit systems.
“From what I was told,” Witteles shared in an ongoing PokerFraudAlert thread dedicated to the fraud spree, “these phones were prepaids bought at a store in the area…. They appear to be T-Mobile prepaid phones.”
San Diego County is home to the Viejas Casino & Resort in Alpine, California, just east of San Diego itself, which is one of the three online casino-payment systems connected to the scheme. Though most of the fraudulent accounts were created on BetMGM’s online system, the physical connection to San Diego County creates the possibility of a Viejas-related link, in the form of a Viejas employee or contractor who could have used the VIP Preferred system illicitly and as part of a fraud ring.
To date, neither Global Payments nor any of the casinos whose systems were used to implement the fraud have commented about any specifics regard the specific fraudsters. Earlier this month, a Global spokesperson did tell PokerOrg, “We have been assisting law enforcement with an investigation into fraudulent accounts set up at unaffiliated third parties using stolen personal information.”
Global Payments has also reiterated its claim that “There has been no security breach or fraudulent accounts opened at our gaming business in connection with this investigation.” However, that phrasing sidesteps the known mechanics of the fraud itself. The accounts were set up on the various casino systems used, including Viejas, BetMGM, WSOP.com and others, and then were linked to victims’ legitimate banking accounts as they already existed within Global’s VIP Preferred system.
The “gaping and obvious security hole” referenced by Witteles may refer to how a casino insider with existing access to the VIP Preferred network could search for a potential victim’s banking info as used at other systems with online portals. VIP Preferred is used by over 500 casinos nationwide, and the system is designed to help casinos aid would-be patrons in making funds available for gambling purposes. Whether that ease-of-use functionality has resulted in a lowering of preferred security protection for customers is one of the open questions raised by the fraud spree, and it’s a question that even solving the spree and prosecuting the perpetrators may not fully address.
Featured image source: Global Payments