AS the authorities in New York City, United States engaged in what seems a mass arrest of Nigerians allegedly involved in a series of financial and identity crimes earlier this week, the Federal Government through the New York Consulate is protesting the decision to name the nationalities of the alleged culprits only when it is about Nigerians.
Already, no fewer than 40 Nigerians based in New York metropolitan area are among 45 people arrested on Thursday in what New York City authorities called the dismantling of an "international credit card and identity fraud ring'.
A statement from the District Attorney's office for Queens County (under New York City) late on Thursday said in the last one year alone, this group of Nigerians and their American collaborators have engaged in fraud estimated at $12 million (N1.7billion).
About 22 of the over 40 alleged criminals have already been arraigned at a New York Supreme Court.
However, the Federal Government has responded through the Consul General at the Nigerian Consulate in New York , Mr. Ibrahim Auwalu who said New York authorities are yet to alert the Nigerian Embassy about the developments. He added that once the Nigerian Embassy is alerted and informed by the New York authorities, the embassy will seek to have access to the detained Nigerians and "confirm their bonafides."
Auwalu said if they were indeed Nigerians, the embassy would indeed visit them in detention, adding: "We owe them that responsibility as Nigerians".
But the New York authorities in an investigation involving city lawyers, cops and detectives from New York Police Department and other agencies, disclosed that nearly "four dozen individuals" have been charged after a 21-month investigation, where counterfeit credit cards were used to steal money.
Queens District Attorney, Richard A. Brown, joined by Police Commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, on Thursday announced the indictment and busting of 45 people in the international forged credit card and identity theft ring based in the New York metropolitan area "with roots in Nigeria."
Auwalu wondered why so much is being made of the involvement of Nigerians when Americans and people from other parts of the world are also indicted.
He said "it is only when Nigerians are involved that we hear about the nationalities of the alleged culprits", asking why the origin of Bernie Maddoff who stole over $50billion of other people's money, was never mentioned.
Defending Nigeria's name in all of this, Auwalu observed that it has already been established that Nigerians in the US are the most educated immigrant group and even the most educated of all ethnic groups in America. However, he lamented that people don't focus on this.
He added: "What bothers me is that when others commit crimes in this country, we don't hear their nationalities, but they keep mentioning Nigerians. What they don't say about us is that we have tens of thousands of Nigerian professionals in the medical profession doing important live-saving work here."
Detailing the operation of the crime rings, however, District Attorney and the New York Police Commissioner said they comprise of three separate identity theft and forged credit card groups that employ multiple cells that are "alleged to have been responsible for stealing the credit cards and personal credit information of thousands of American and Canadian consumers, costing these individuals, as well as financial institutions and retail businesses, more than $12 million in losses over the past year alone."
District Attorney Brown said: "In terms of just the sheer number of people indicted - this is one of the largest identity theft networks uncovered in recent history and is just possibly the tip of a much larger global credit card trafficking operation."
He added that "technological advances have made it increasingly easier to carry out identity theft and fraud - two of the fastest growing crimes in the US and which afflicts millions of victims and costs billions of dollars in losses to consumers, businesses and financial institutions."
Brown noted that as part of the investigation, court-authorized search warrants were executed earlier in the week in New York at 17 locations and resulted in the recovery of forged credit cards, credit reports, machines used to stamp credit card account information onto cards and nearly $100,000 in cash.
According to the statement, some of the defendants are alleged to have activated consumers' credit cards by utilizing "Spoof Cards" which allow a caller to disguise the telephone number they're calling from and even their voice and gender.
"From a law enforcement perspective, such cards are anything but a spoof. They are virtually untraceable and can be used by identity thieves and hackers to pose as government and financial entities as a means to unscrupulously obtain personal information from unsuspecting consumers and also by defendants in domestic violence cases to harass their victims, " Brown said.