Military Fraudster Sentenced

The charity sounded like a worthy and patriotic cause—an organization that would send military families on Disney vacations and pay travel costs for families to see their loved ones graduate from boot camp in South Carolina and California.

But the charity, known as “Marines and Mickey” was simply a front that fraudster John Shannon Simpson used to enrich himself. Thanks to an FBI and Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigation, Simpson is now serving a prison sentence.

“Simpson presented himself as a retired master sergeant in the Marines, and people believed him. They had no reason to question a U.S. Marine,” said Special Agent Tiffany Baker, who investigated the case out of the FBI’s Bluffton Resident Agency, which is part of the Columbia Field Office.

In fact, Simpson was actually a lower-level rank than he claimed, and he was court-martialed for going AWOL.

But claiming to be associated with the Marine Corps gave Simpson credibility, and donors gave nearly half a million dollars to his charity from its founding in 2014 until 2016.

Simpson befriended a Gold Star mother who had lost her son in a shooting in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 2015. Simpson and the Gold Star mother collaborated on fundraisers for Marines and Mickey.

People who knew the mother became suspicious of Marines and Mickey and dug into Simpson’s military record. A friend of hers contacted the FBI, who began looking into the charity.

While the purported charity claimed that 100 percent of funds were directed to help military families, investigators found that less than 20 percent of the donations were actually used for that purpose. Most of the money was simply pocketed for Simpson’s daily living expenses.

“Simpson even hosted a fundraiser that was to send a Marine’s child who was sick with cancer to Disney,” Baker said. “In fact, he did not direct any money toward that family.”

But Simpson was a good salesman. He knew enough about the military to ingratiate himself with Marines and their families. And for a long time, no one, including his volunteers, had any reason to question his military record or how he was spending the money he raised.

“It’s such an affront to the Marine Corps values that someone had the audacity to take advantage of their service members for financial gain—while pretending to have those same military values himself when he did not,” Baker said. “It’s just a really egregious case.”

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Father and Son Sentenced for Fraud

An elderly man in a wheelchair lost more than $100,000. A woman lost her high-end home and moved into a small shed on her son’s property. Another victim lost her life savings and could not afford eyeglasses. Some victims declared bankruptcy.

These stories are just a few from the more than 100 victims who lost $63 million as a result of a fraud scheme carried out by the owners of Smith Advertising from around 2008 to 2012.

“This is not just a crime about money. These were people with real lives who were lied to and deceived, and they paid a real price,” said Special Agent Jay Stone, who investigated the case out of the FBI’s Tampa Field Office, along with the U.S. Secret Service.

Gary Todd Smith, and his father, Gary Truman Smith, ran Smith Advertising, a North Carolina-based company with offices in Florida. At first, the company did legitimate advertising work, but it hit a financial snag in the mid-2000s, particularly after the 2008 financial crisis.

“The economic downturn was probably a crippling blow,” Stone said. “The right and legal thing to do if your business is struggling is to restructure and possibly claim bankruptcy. But they wanted money, so they devised this fraudulent scheme.”

The scheme was complex and successful—for a time.

When the business began to struggle, the company solicited investors—including friends and associates from their community, church, and civic organizations—for “bridge loans.” The company told investors that they would loan Smith Advertising money so the company could pre-purchase advertising at a discount. The company promised to pay back the investors what they loaned plus a cut of the discount.

In fact, the company wasn’t buying advertising. The loans were simply to keep Smith Advertising afloat and repay previous debts—the equivalent of opening a new credit card to pay off a maxed-out one. Some of the early victims were paid back with the promised return, but that was simply other people’s money that the company had borrowed. Other victims, however, lost all of the money they invested.

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Booklet Lists Observable Indicators of Potential Violent Extremists

A list of nearly four dozen observable behavioral signs that someone might be planning to commit an act of extremist violence is contained in a newly updated publication released by the country’s foremost counterterrorism organizations.

Homegrown Violent Extremist Mobilization Indicators, 2019 Edition, produced by the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the Department of Homeland Security, contains a broad list of 46 behavioral indicators listed in color-coded groupings of how clearly the indicators might demonstrate an individual’s likelihood of engaging in terrorist activity. The booklet updates a prior version published in 2017.

The agencies authored the updated publication to help law enforcement—and the public at large—recognize potentially dangerous behaviors as the U.S. faces a heightened threat from homegrown violent extremists.

“The booklet provides our partners with tools to identify concerning behavior so that it can be responsibly reported to law enforcement,” said Michael McGarrity, assistant director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division. “We can’t be everywhere. We count on our partners to identify threats in their communities.”

The booklet, published on the website of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, describes each of the behavioral indicators, organized by how easily they can be diagnosed. For example, observing someone prepare a martyrdom video could be diagnosed on its own as a mobilization indicator, while seeing an individual conduct suspicious financial transactions would be considered “minimally diagnostic” and would require other observable indicators to meet a diagnostic threshold.

The publication emphasizes that many of the indicators may involve constitutionally protected activities. But observed together, the behaviors may raise suspicions and merit reporting to authorities.

“It’s an indispensable tool in our efforts to leverage all available resources to identify terrorists before they conduct deadly attacks,” said Matthew Alcoke, deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division.

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Fraudsters Took Advantage of Injured Workers

Injured workers in California thought they were calling a hotline to help them navigate the workers’ compensation system. What they got instead was more pain. Rather than getting the help they needed, callers were set up with a group of corrupt doctors, attorneys, and patient brokers who lined their own pockets at the expense of injured workers.

For years, dozens of marketers, doctors, lawyers, and medical service providers conspired to buy and sell patients—and their individual body parts—like commodities for insurance and workers’ compensation purposes. The San Diego-based fraud ring cheated the California workers’ compensation system and private insurance out of more than $200 million. They also subjected patients to unnecessary, and sometimes painful, medical procedures and corrupted the doctor-patient relationship.

Yet thanks to an investigation by the FBI, the San Diego District Attorney’s Office, and the California Department of Insurance, many of the fraudsters have been convicted and sentenced.

The network preyed predominantly on seasonal, migrant workers who travel back and forth between California and Mexico. Their work in heavy labor industries, such as agriculture, can sometimes result in injuries.

Fermin Iglesias and Carlos Arguello set up various patient recruiting and scheduling companies in Central America and Mexico to direct patients to medical service providers. Arguello operated several patient recruitment entities, including one called Centro Legal. Through billboards, flyers, advertisements, and business cards, Centro Legal recruited workers to seek workers’ compensation benefits. When an injured worker called the number on the billboard or card, a scheduling company took over to maximize the profits from that individual worker.

“The corrupt attorneys and doctors had the same goal—to bill as much as possible,” said Special Agent Jeffrey Horner, who investigated the case out of the FBI’s San Diego Field Office. “The attorneys wanted to get the largest possible settlement by any means necessary, which was traditionally based on total medical billing. The doctors wanted to make as much money as possible, without regard for the well-being of their patients.

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US Customs and Border Protection reportedly suspends subcontractor over cyberattack

The US Customs and Border Protection has reportedly suspended a subcontractor following a “malicious cyberattack” in May that caused it to lose photos of travelers into and out of the country. Perceptics, which makes license plate scanners and other surveillance equipment for CBP, has been suspended from contracting with the federal government, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

On June 12, CBP had confirmed that in violation of its policies, a subcontractor had “transferred copies of license plate images and traveler images collected by CBP to the subcontractor’s company network.” The subcontractor’s network was then compromised by a cyberattack that affected under 100,000 people who entered and exited the US in a vehicle through several specific lanes at one land border during a 1.5-month period.

Federal records showed CBP officials citing “evidence of conduct indicating a lack of business honesty or integrity,” Washington Post reported.

Passports and travel document photos weren’t taken in the cyberattack, but it was reported later in June that the hackers stole sensitive CBP data from Perceptics, including government agency contracts, budget spreadsheets and even Powerpoint presentations.

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5 charged in human trafficking case after 18 immigrants are rescued in Houston

(CNN) Houston police arrested five men in a human trafficking investigation for allegedly holding 18 Latin American immigrants for ransom, police said.

The suspects face multiple charges, including engaging in organized crime by kidnapping, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said Friday.

The investigation started June 5 after a family told police a relative was being held against his will. Kidnappers were demanding $4,700 for the man’s release, in addition to $300 that had been paid to someone in Mexico to help bring him into the country, police said in a criminal complaint.

The kidnappers told the family that the man would be killed if the money was not paid, the complaint said.

Officers responded to where they believed the victim was held, and they arrested several suspects and rescued two victims, Acevedo said.

Guns, cash and cocaine recovered

Police learned of a “stash house” with more victims and found 16 more victims in “deplorable conditions,” he said.

“Our investigation determined that women were held captive and sexually assaulted for 25 days,” he said. The victims were taken to hospitals after they were rescued.
Detectives also recovered guns, more than $10,000, and 19 grams of cocaine, police said.

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Cellebrite Cracks All iOS Devices, Company Announces

The “arms race” of mobile forensics – ever-tougher encryption and the breakneck operations to crack it – has become more of a public tug-of-war than ever before.

Cellebrite, the largest player in the mobile-forensics industry, unveiled its UFED Premium last Friday. Along with the announcement came the bombshell: that it can now get into any Apple iOS device, and many of the high-end Android devices.

“An exclusive solution for law enforcement to unlock and extract data from all iOS and Android devices,” the company said in a tweet.

Those devices have historically been the toughest to crack – and Cellebrite’s newfound ability to perform a full-file system extraction on any iOS device in particular would allow law enforcement “to get much more data than what is possible through logical extractions and other conventional means.”

“Our certified forensic experts can also help you gain access to sensitive mobile evidence form several locked, encrypted or damaged iOS and Android devices using advanced in-lab only techniques,” the company added in its Friday announcement.

The latest tool works on Apple device running anything from iOS 7 to iOS 12.3, according to the company. Among the Android devices covered are the Samsung S6, S7, S8, and S9. Also supported are the most popular models of Motorola, Huawei, LG and Xiaomi.

The announcement follows the highly-publicized breakthrough of the GrayKey devices made by Grayshift more than a year ago. The GrayKey tool had exploited a low-power loophole in some iOS systems, one expert explained to Forensic Magazine. But Apple put in a fix to stop the access late last year, involving an iOS system to reconnect with a home device. Since then, GrayKey has made some inroads on some Apple devices – but not all of them, according to experts.

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Border Patrol expands fingerprinting of migrant children

HOUSTON (AP) — U.S. border authorities say they’ve started to increase the biometric data they take from children 13 years old and younger, including fingerprints, despite privacy concerns and government policy intended to restrict what can be collected from migrant youths.

A Border Patrol official said this week that the agency had begun a pilot program to collect the biometrics of children with the permission of the adults accompanying them, though he did not specify where along the border it has been implemented.

The Border Patrol also has a “rapid DNA pilot program” in the works, said Anthony Porvaznik, the chief patrol agent in Yuma, Arizona, in a video interview published by the Epoch Times newspaper.

Spokesmen for the Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security did not return several messages from The Associated Press seeking comment on both programs.

The Border Patrol says that in the last year, it’s stopped roughly 3,100 adults and children fraudulently posing as families so they can be released into the U.S. quickly rather than face detention or rapid deportation.

The Department of Homeland Security has also warned of “child recycling,” cases where they say children allowed into the U.S. were smuggled back into Central America to be paired up again with other adults in fake families — something they say is impossible to catch without fingerprints or other biometric data.

“Those are kids that are being rented, for lack of a better word,” Porvaznik said.

But the Border Patrol has not publicly identified anyone arrested in a “child recycling” scheme or released data on how many such schemes have been uncovered. Advocates say they’re worried that in the name of stopping fraud, agents might take personal information from children that could be used against them later.

“Of course child trafficking exists,” said Karla Vargas, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project. But she warned against implementing “a catch-all” policy that could reduce the rights of people who are legally seeking asylum.

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Creator of Website That Stole ATM Card Numbers Sentenced

Nearly half a million Alabama cell phone numbers received identical text messages in 2015 telling them to click a link to “verify” their bank account information. The link took recipients to a realistic-looking bank website where they typed in their personal financial information.

But the link was not the actual bank’s website—it was part of a phishing scam. Just like phishing messages sent over email, the text message-based scam was easy to fall for. The web address was only one character off from the bank’s actual web address.

While most recipients appeared to ignore the message, around 50 people clicked on the link and provided their personal information. The website asked for account numbers, names, and ZIP codes, along with their associated debit card numbers, security codes, and PINs. Within an hour, the fraudster had made himself debit cards with the victims’ account information. He then began to withdraw money from various ATMs, stealing whatever the daily ATM maximum was from each account.

“It was a fairly legitimate-looking website, other than the information it was asking for,” said Special Agent Jake Frith of the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, who worked the case along with investigators from the FBI’s Mobile Field Office.

The fraudster, Iosif Florea, stole about $18,000 (including ATM fees), with losses from each individual account ranging from $20 to $800. (Banks typically reimburse customers who are victims of fraud.)

Investigators believe Florea bought a large list of cell phone numbers from a marketing company, and he only needed a few victims out of thousands of phone numbers for the scheme to be successful.

The damage was minimized, however, because of the bank’s quick response. As soon as customers reported the fraud, the bank reached out to federal authorities as well as the local media to alert the community to the fraudulent messages.

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FBI Investigators Thwarted Transfer of Trade Secrets to China

Wenfeng Lu was seemingly living the American dream—a comfortable life in Irvine, California, with his family and a career in medical device research and development.

Yet Lu’s secret goal was to use trade secrets stolen from his employer to strike it rich in his native China. However, thanks to an FBI investigation, his plan was thwarted, and Lu is now serving a 27-month prison sentence.

Lu worked for several different U.S. companies, all of which developed high-tech medical equipment, such as clot retrieval tools and balloon-guide catheters. In each job, Lu signed a non-disclosure agreement for his research and development work.

Despite signing the confidentiality agreement, Lu routinely did “data dumps” from his various medical research employers for about three years until his arrest in 2012. Lu transferred all of the data he could get his hands on to a personal laptop. Many of the hundreds of documents Lu stole had nothing to do with his own research; he took as much information as he could access, including proprietary information.

“He had access to so many files, not just for his own projects, and he downloaded files for a variety of different projects and took them home and to China,” said Special Agent Gina Kwon, who investigated this case out of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.

One of Lu’s former employers noticed the unusual activity on their systems and reported the results of their internal investigation to the FBI. Investigators quickly proceeded to build their case and arrested Lu, just before he boarded a plane to China with the files.

The investigative team learned that Lu had planned to create and run his own medical device manufacturing company in China using the stolen technology and Chinese government funding. He had even applied for Chinese patents using technology stolen from the American companies. (China’s government creates policies that disadvantage American businesses, and hacking against American companies and interests is a common tactic.)

“Lu wanted his own business, and he thought there was a great market in China for this technology,” Kwon said.

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