The FBI believes that jewellery shops in Jersey City’s “Little India” neighbourhood were at the heart of a vast credit card fraud ring, which stretched across several US states.
Several properties have been raided and 18 people have been charged so far.
Officials say participants in the scheme “stole” at least 200 million dollars (150 million euros).
US Attorney for the District of New Jersey Paul Fishman said of the perpetrators:
“They hid tens of thousands of dollars of cash in their homes. You will see in the complaint that 68,000 dollars (50,000 euros) in cash was seized from just one defendant’s house during an earlier search warrant, executed as part of this case. Money was hidden in a kitchen stove.
“And the complicit merchants, the jewellery store owners in Jersey City, used the proceeds to purchase millions of dollars worth of gold and gold jewellery and we’ll be seeking to forfeit whatever we can find,” Fisherman added.
Officials believe the fraud involved thousands of fake identities, lies to credit rating agencies and funds wired abroad.
Beginning in 2007, the alleged scam was based on falsely improving the credit scores of cardholders, allowing scammers to borrow high amounts of money – which they never repaid.