Neighbors wondered about upscale address, expensive cars
Neighbors wondered how a young University of Georgia grad student from India could afford to live in their upscale Sagewood Equestrian Community in Winterville.
They got answers to their questions about 29-year-old Vikas Yadav after Athens-Clarke police and U.S. Secret Service agents searched his home last month.
Authorities said they found evidence Yadav was at the center of a multimillion-dollar identity theft ring that cloned the credit cards of people in the Athens area.
Yadav – who earned a master’s degree at UGA’s College of Pharmacy in 2004 but was booted out of a doctoral program the next year – obtained credit card numbers with a keystroke logger, a small device authorities say he installed on a check-out computer at the Lexington Road liquor store where he worked.
He bought electronics and other merchandise with cloned cards and resold them, and also made cash withdrawals from victims’ bank accounts, according to Detective Beverly Russell, an Athens-Clarke police financial crimes investigator.
The scheme allowed him to enjoy a lifestyle that didn’t fit a former doctoral student, authorities said.
Yadav began leasing his home at 175 Sagewood Lane last December for $2,300 a month in a lease-to-buy agreement, according to the homeowner, Michael Zornig, and paid $30,000 a month for an ongoing improvement project at the house.
Also in December, Yadav plunked down $61,000 cash to buy an adjacent, undeveloped lot, Zornig said.
“It was obvious he had a lot of money – he was driving a Hummer, BMW and Mercedes,” Zornig said.
Although authorities said Yadav was just a clerk at Perry’s Liquor, the store’s owner said the man did computer maintenance for the business.
Yadav told others he was a partner, according to Zornig.
Some neighbors in the equestrian community saw trucks make regular deliveries to Yadav’s house and thought he ran a successful Internet business; one thought he might be a drug dealer.
“He lied to everybody,” Zornig said. “He turned colors very quickly.”
Investigators don’t yet know how many people were part of the ring or how many victims they defrauded.
“This is a big old wheel and there are a ton of spokes coming off in all directions,” Russell said. “There possibly are many more players.”
The investigation began in spring 2007 and has resulted in only two arrests so far – Yadav and an Atlanta man, Dwight Bancroft Riddick, who allegedly made regular trips out of state to use cloned credit cards at retail stores like Wal-Mart and Best Buy.
He returned Aug. 15 in a rental truck filled with flatscreen plasma TVs, while police officers and federal agents were searching Yadav’s home.
During the search, authorities found a third suspect inside – Dashun McQuiller of Jacksonville, N.C. – but they let him go after questioning because investigators hadn’t made a complete case to arrest him, Russell said.
Last October, agents intercepted a package in North Carolina that Yadav had addressed to McQuiller that contained more than 20 gift cards encoded with the credit card numbers of Athens-area residents, according to the warrant to search Yadav’s home.
Authorities say Yadav came to the U.S. on a student visa, but he remained here after the visa expired. Immigration officials have placed a hold on him for deportation proceedings after his federal criminal case has been prosecuted.
Yadav has been in custody in Mississippi since Aug. 14, when Secret Service agents arrested him near a Wal-Mart with credit card cloning equipment and 14 cloned credit cards. Investigators determined the numbers were assigned to credit cards used at the Lexington Road liquor store, and a federal grand jury in Mississippi indicted Yadav on four counts of credit card-related fraud.
Most victims of financial transaction card fraud don’t report the crime to police because they wrongly assume their banks take care of it, according to Russell, who urged victims to come forward.
She also wants anyone who had Yadav do work on a computer to tell police because investigators think he may have installed data-stealing devices on computers other than the one at Perry’s Liquor.