An Escondido woman has been sentenced to five years in federal prison for being the mastermind behind an elaborate internet fraud scheme that included mail, wire and bank fraud.
According to United States Attorney Laura E. Duffy, 54-year-old Kathleen Wurts will serve 60 months in prison in connection with a $17 million internet fraud scheme.
Wurts entered a guilty plea back in April 2012. In her plea, she admitted that through April 2010, she defrauded people who used websites such as Craigslist and Yahoo! to find employment, buy and sell items and rent and purchase real estate property.
Court documents show that Wurts’co-conspirators would mail her counterfeit money orders and travelers’ cheques from countries outside the U.S. including Nigeria, Abu Dhabi and the United Kingdom. They also provided Wurts with stolen bank account and credit card numbers via email.
Using the stolen bank account numbers, Wurts created hundreds of fraudulent checks.
She then used those checks to pay for items victims were selling on the internet. Documents reveal Wurts would mail victims a check in an amount exceeding the asking price of whatever they were selling.
The victims were told to deposit the checks into their own accounts, keep a certain percentage “for their trouble” and then wire-transfer the excess portion of the stolen amount to an overseas account.
Wurts even used stolen credit card information to pay for more than $13,000 worth of postage to mail those fraudulent checks to victims.
In total, investigators say Wurts received more than $800,000 in counterfeit money orders and travelers’ cheques and, in turn, created more than $17.2 million in phony checks using stolen bank account numbers.
On top of her five-year prison sentence, Wurts has also been ordered to serve three years of supervised release following her release from prison.
Due to the vast number of victims who fell for her fraud scheme – and the location of victims worldwide – a judge found that restitution was indeterminate.
Duffy’s office says this particular case was investigated by federal agents with ICE and HSI, as well as officials with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.