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Published on May 17, 2024
Arizona Woman Suspected of Running North Korean ID Theft Racket, Feds Charge Five in Massive Sanctions Evasion SchemeSource: FBI Knoxville

In a significant crackdown on an identity theft operation benefiting North Korea, federal authorities have charged five individuals, including an Arizona woman and three unnamed foreign nationals. The FBI raids uncovered an elaborate 'laptop farm' scheme in Jefferson City, Tennessee, which authorities say was part of efforts to bypass U.S. sanctions and steal identities for North Korean economic gain, WBIR reported.

The indictments describe how foreign IT workers used stolen identities to pose as U.S. residents and infiltrate domestic companies' networks, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, stated that this was the "largest case ever charged" involving such misconduct, according to Citizen Tribune. Investigations spanning multiple FBI field offices and U.S. Attorney’s Offices led to the execution of search warrants in Arizona, California, Tennessee, and Virginia, and arrests in the U.S., and Poland.

Christina Marie Chapman of Litchfield Park, Arizona was allegedly at the helm of one such operation, with more than 90 computers running remote connections for overseas IT workers discovered in her home. Chapman faces up to 97 years in prison if convicted of her charges, while Ukrainian national Oleksandr Didenko, involved in a similar operation, could see up to 67 years behind bars. Didenko was arrested in Poland and is currently awaiting extradition, The Leaf Chronicle detailed.

Authorities noted that these operations extended to laptop farms in East Tennessee, where a home and a Carson-Newman University dorm room were utilized by conspirators. The search warrants indicate that the individuals involved, leveraging the laptop farms' facilities, enabled foreign workers to access company networks seemingly from within the U.S., “On the surface, today’s allegations of wire fraud, identity theft, and money laundering may read like a typical white collar or economic crime scheme,” Kevin Vorndran, FBI’s Assistant Director for Counterintelligence, pointed out, “But what these allegations truly represent is a new high-tech campaign to evade U.S. sanctions, victimize U.S. businesses, and steal U.S. identities.” as per shared views with WBIR.

The U.S. Department of Justice issued a stern warning to American companies employing remote IT workers, encouraging vigilance against hiring entities disguised under stolen identities. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of State has offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest of Chapman's co-conspirators, intensifying the pressure on this international fraud network, as revealed by Citizen Tribune.