Why Winnipeg?

That’s the question that kept coming to my mind during Ben Harvey-Langton’s sentencing hearing today in provincial court.

The largest credit card fraud operation ever uncovered in Manitoba’s history. (Link is to my report on the case, which was never revealed by Winnipeg police that I can see.)

Let that rattle in your brain for a bit and realize the magnitude of what Harvey-Langton and his co-conspirators were trying to accomplish.

Judging from the facts of the case, Harvey-Langton is no dummy. He’s a grad-school educated whip-smart scam artist who seems to know his way around corners of the Internet most people don’t know even exist. He’s skilled in fake ID’s, computers and world travel.

 “Harvey-Langton was born in Nice, France.  He moved to England when he was 17 years old.  He lived with his mother, step-father and sister.  He studied Psychology, receiving an Honour’s degree.  He went to New Zealand and obtained his private pilot’s licence.  He went to Germany and studied international business at the Schiller International University in Heidelberg.  It was there that he was introduced to the criminal business of credit card fraud …”

“… He was not only obtaining, but also sharing, stolen credit card data over the internet.

He was known in the fraudulent credit card business as a “dumps” buyer.

He purchased a card embosser from China on May 30, 2011 over the internet.

He was in communication with people who were finding additional illegal carding sites and new ways of fraudulently obtaining credit card data, such as a new way of IP straining.

He was visiting illicit internet websites with names such as “Little Snitch Program”, “Kurupt” and “carder.pro”.

He was in the process of purchasing a new identity complete with a false passport, perhaps Finnish, “as it opens more doors to a new identity in the EU outside of Finland,” and other personal identification cards.” (Judge Devine decision)

But for some reason, Harvey-Langton and his co-conspirators (one who went by the curious Internet handle of “Darky”) chose our fair city as home base to set up their scheme. 

I keep wondering why. Harvey-Langton met the other co-conspirator in Montreal and for whatever reason chose Winnipeg to set up the hub of operations.

Weird thing is, Harvey-Langton had used fake credit cards to book first-class passed from southern Africa in August [and stayed in high-ticket hotels on the way] to find his way through Johannesburg to London and then on to Montreal. Ostensibly the trip was to visit his sister in Quebec with a [unfulfilled] side-trip planned to Churchill.

It wasn’t to be.

“Communications once within Canada in September 2011 show he was in Montreal, northern Quebec, then in Ontario, using false credit cards again for cars, flights and hotels.  He characterized his criminal activity as “working really hard”, complaining that he hadn’t gone out in over two months and was completely wasted.

He is currently subject to criminal investigations and/or charges in Ontario and Quebec.  The Winnipeg investigation led to information relevant to those investigations, such as lists of malls and photography stores in Ontario and a search for the “best lawyer Montreal fraud credit card”.

His calendar entry for October 5, 2011, showed he was “doing Darky’s shit”.

A conversation between he and co‑accused Guo characterized the Winnipeg hit as part of a larger plan to invest for ATM fraud.” (Devine decision)

Again, the question begs — and I won’t pretend to know the answer — why Winnipeg?

Why not Toronto, Vancouver — or given how internet based the data-scamming scheme is — Jasper or Kelowna? It it our cheap long-distance rates?

Yes, the actual damage in this case was minimal, thanks to a sharp-eyed and suspicious Henry’s sales clerk who questioned why all of Harvey-Langton’s fake cards were being declined when he tried to buy a Canon D60 DSLR as part of the overall scheme to finance further fraud.

The plan was to counterfeit credit cards, buy high-end cameras and give them to a fourth individual named “Dope Carder” who would sell the cameras for $800 each.  The offender’s take would be $300 on each camera. (Devine decision)

So what’s the big deal, you might wonder as well.

Amex thought it was a big deal. In a rare move, the Crown sought a victim impact statement from the credit-card company to tell the court about the effects credit-card scams have on Canadians.

One of the agreed documents was a Victim Impact Statement from the Amex Bank of Canada, completed by its Director of Security, Rick Neals.  In the statement, Mr. Neals outlined the increasing seriousness of credit card fraud internationally and in Canada.  There are 68.2 million credit cards in circulation across Canada.  In 2011, the Canadian issuers of Visa, Mastercard and American Express reported losses of $436,588,757 due to credit card fraud, a form of “electronic bank robbery” according to Mr. Neal’s statement.  Counterfeit activity is the largest type of credit card fraud in Canada.  One of the methods is through computer hacking:

Data thieves hack into networks to steal account data or infect the network with malware which is capable of collecting account data as it is being processed by a merchant or processor.  The compromised data is then sold by organized crime groups on the Internet “carder forums” and is later used to manufacture a counterfeit credit card. (at 4)

Credit card fraud is not typically committed by sole operators.  Mr. Neal’s statement goes on to say,

Counterfeit credit card fraud is not usually perpetrated by one individual acting alone.  It is generally committed by highly mobile, organized-crime gangs, who use the funds obtained to finance various other criminal activities, including drug trafficking, firearm purchases, etc. (at 5) (Devine decision)

Anyone with any answers to the question that started out this post, please chime in in the comments.

Harvey-Langton has six years now to reflect and ask himself the same question.

Minus earned remission and early parole eligibility, of course.


One thought on “Winnipeg: a favorite hub for fraudsters?

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