A single jammed credit card brought down a massive fraud ring, RCMP say, leading to the seizure of thousands of forged credit cards, passports and other false identification.
The sophisticated operation was responsible for the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars and the production of thousands of pieces of fake IDs over the past few years, police say. But it was undone earlier this month by a seemingly obvious blunder by the fraudster – a forged card left inside a malfunctioning card-printing machine in Burnaby.
"The card was stuck in the machine," said RCMP Inspector Tim Shields on Tuesday. "[The person]must have known it was in there."
When a Burnaby repair shop found that card, they phoned police, triggering a raid on a Burnaby condo March 7.
Members of the Burnaby RCMP Economic Crime Section began immediate surveillance of the man who picked up the printer from the shop, and followed him back to an 11th-floor condominium in the Metrotown area of the city. Two people later walked out of the apartment and were arrested.
After obtaining a search warrant for the apartment, the RCMP said they seized 3,000 pieces of stolen or forged identification, including credit cards, passports and drivers' licences. They also found 15 computer hard drives in the apartment. Three of the drives have been examined, police said, and were found to contain more than 80,000 credit-card numbers. The personal information of about 44,000 individuals, including social-insurance numbers and banking details, was also found.
Insp. Shields said this is an especially large operation that includes pieces of identification from across the country. Police said the investigation will take months and they believe it could lead to further arrests.
So far RCMP have linked the stolen information to more than 80 breaking-and-entering offences and car thefts in the Vancouver area.
There is no evidence indicating a gang connection, RCMP said, but they described the operation as a clear example of organized crime.
"Any time you have a group conspiring to commit crimes like this, it's organized crime." Insp. Shields said.
The raid uncovered thousands of credit-card receipts from two hotels, police said – the Sandman in Surrey and the Ramada in Vancouver. Equipment for making fake IDs, burglary tools, replica guns, a taser and a Canada Post bag and jacket were also found.
"Stolen mail was a massive component of this whole investigation," Insp. Shields said. "We believe, by virtue of the fact we found a Canada Post mailbag and a legitimate Canada Post jacket that someone was impersonating a Canada Post employee during the theft of mail."
Canada Post said Tuesday that it is aware of the investigation and is co-operating with police.
Charged are Anthony Stulec, 29, and his common-law wife Stephanie Smyth, 21. They each face 19 charges. Mr. Stulec will remain in custody until his next court date on April 4. Ms. Smyth was released on $500 bail.