Answer by Tim Dees:

I'll give you an example from a real criminal case. This happened about 20 years ago, but I'm reasonably sure it continues today in some form.

A gang of Chinese immigrants to Canada had an identity theft/extortion scheme going that netted them several million dollars. The first step in their plan was to co-opt employees in upscale Chinese restaurants where families would hold large celebrations and other gatherings. The bill for one of these events might run well into five figures, and the host would put it on a credit card. Credit card accounts like this would have charge limits well into six figures, and it also wasn't unusual for cash advances and other charges to come from casinos in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The gang would "encourage" the restaurant employees to record credit card numbers with high limits by suggesting that bad things could happen to their children or other family members if they didn't cooperate.

When the gang had a suitable batch of account numbers, they would emboss the numbers onto credit card blanks they made themselves, encoding the number into the magstrip. This pre-dated smart cards and other credit card safeguards now more common. They would also make up fake Canadian drivers licenses with names that matched the names on the card accounts, and the photos of the same restaurant employees they had used to get the card numbers.

The employees would be then flown to  U.S. casinos (I came to know of this because Lake Tahoe and Reno casinos were among those they used), while their children were left in the "care" of the gang. So long as they played along, the children were not harmed.

Once at the casino, the shills would be given a credit card and matching drivers license, and told to get one or more cash advances on the card at the cashier. They took advantage of most white Americans' lack of familiarity with Asian names and facial features. They might see the same person use three different identities in an evening, and not remember them from before. This was made even easier because most non-Asian Americans won't even recognize a name as being typically that of a man or a woman. The drivers license fakes were pretty bad, but most of the cashiers looked only at the names, anyway.

The shills would gamble a little bit to keep up appearances, but the lion's share of the money went to the gang. The shills didn't see much wrong with this. They got a trip to a U.S. casino they probably wouldn't have been able to afford, otherwise. Most of the shills were honest, working-class people who may not have even known they were committing a crime.

When the scheme was broken up, it was prosecuted in both the U.S. and Canada, with the gang members doing time in one or both countries. One of the factors that gave them away was that they were only slightly more familiar with English than their victims were with Chinese. The card blanks I saw carried the issuing organization as "Chase manhattan Bank", not capitalizing the second word.

This sort of thing would be a little more difficult to pull off today, but the shills can be recruited into the scheme in the same way. Because of the high levels of corruption in many Asian police agencies, many immigrants will not go to the police in the U.S. or Canada when they are victimized. There may also be language and cultural barriers that get in the way of reporting, so investigation of these crimes is more difficult.

Can restaurants and discotheques really be forced to buy protection from criminal gangs, like in the movies?

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