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How An Amateur Rap Crew Stole Surveillance Tech That Tracks Almost Every American

Posted on Saturday, 13th October 2018 @ 04:35 PM by Text Size A | A | A

On a June day last year, a skinny, dreadlocked 29-year-old rapper known as Tony Da Boss lay in bed in a redbrick apartment on a tree-lined street in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was not the kind of place you’d associate with a million-dollar criminal conspiracy. But Da Boss (real name Damonte Withers) was a leader of the FreeBandz Gang, an amateur hip-hop crew of twentysomethings who were into much more nefarious activities than laying down tracks.

There were warning signs that things were going to get real. Alerts on Da Boss’ iPhone warned that his Google Nest surveillance cameras with views into and outside the apartment had picked up movement. Outside, a full cast of law enforcement personnel from the Secret Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the local police department were primed to swoop in.

Inside, they found piles of marijuana and multiple firearms. More intriguing, there were bundles of cash alongside fake-ID-card printers, 36 credit card blanks and reams of printouts containing American citizens’ personal data. Investigators spotted the Nest cameras and would soon make the first publicly known federal government demand for customer information and surveillance footage from Google’s smart home division.

From January to June 2018, seven members of Da Boss’ gang pleaded guilty to various identity theft charges. In total they had caused about $1.2 million in damage, using stolen identities to buy luxury cars and iPhones and to lease apartments in Charlotte. Both they and their crimes would have been quickly forgotten as garden variety larceny were it not for the way they stole those identities.

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