HARRISBURG — Attorney General Josh Shapiro today announced charges against three Philadelphia men accused of taking part in a bank fraud scheme involving the use of Instagram that resulted in the theft of more than $50,000 from various financial institutions, including the Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union.
Shakour S. Smith, 26, Ikeem M. Starks, 25, and Quadir J. Burley, 18, were charged following an investigation by the Office of Attorney General’s Organized Crime Section. The Pennsylvania State Police and the Lower Merion Township Police Department assisted in the investigation.
Smith, Starks and Burley used the photo-sharing application Instagram to recruit other people who allowed their accounts at banks in Philadelphia and Montgomery County to be used as part of the fraud. The suspects posted bank logos to Instagram and enticed people to “like” their posts. The criminals then obtained account information from the people who responded – promising them a cut of the money they planned to steal from banks. Instagram itself did not participate in the scam; the thieves used the app to entice people to join their scheme to steal from financial institutions.
“These thieves used modern-day social media tools to lure people to help them commit old-fashioned crimes – depositing fraudulent checks into bank accounts and withdrawing money that didn’t belong to them,” said Attorney General Shapiro. “Whether the criminals are scammers targeting elderly Pennsylvanians, or con men targeting banks, we’ll hold them accountable.”
The investigation began in February when Organized Crime Section investigators became aware of two Instagram users who posted bank logos on their accounts and requested that other users who held accounts at those banks contact them.
Agents contacted one of the Instagram users and arranged a meeting. Burley showed up for the meeting, and explained to an undercover agent how Burley would deposit fraudulent checks into the agent’s account and then would withdraw money that wasn’t really there to begin with.
Burley said that they would split the money gained from the fraudulent withdrawals. The agent then gave Burley an account that was actually created by investigators and PSECU officials.
Undercover investigators had a similar meeting with Smith, who provided the same information on how the scam worked. Investigators say Smith and Starks were captured on video surveillance making fraudulent withdrawals from the account provided by the investigators.
“This investigation is ongoing and we expect additional charges to be filed,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “Law enforcement cooperation between our office, the Pennsylvania State Police and Lower Merion police helped develop the case leading to these charges. We’re grateful for their assistance.”
The three defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit theft by deception, multiple counts of dealing in the proceeds of unlawful activities and related crimes. The full list of charges is available here
Smith, Burley and Starks have all been arrested and preliminarily arraigned, pending subsequent proceedings. All three defendants are being held in Montgomery County Prison.
The defendants will be prosecuted by Senior Deputy Attorney General Heather Castellino of the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Section.