Two men, one of them residing in Daly City, pleaded guilty this week in a scheme caught by the feds that involved the creation and sale of fake driver accounts on rideshare and delivery apps that enabled foreign nationals to drive for these services in the U.S.

Julio Vieira Braga, 25, of Daly City pleaded guilty Wednesday to aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, alongside 42-year-old Edvaldo Rocha Cabral of Lowell, Massachusetts. Both men are Brazilian nationals, and the fraud scheme involved stolen identities take from the Dark Web and from delivery customers, and the creation of fake driver profiles that were then sold or rented to other Brazilian nationals for their use.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts announced the guilty pleas Wednesday, explaining that Braga and Cabral were charged in May 2021 along with 17 other alleged co-conspirators — 16 have been arrested, including Braga and Cabral, and three remain at large. The two men are the third and fourth people indicted in the case to plead guilty.

The scam is fairly complex, and federal investigators say that Cabral netted over $430,000 in rental and sale payments from others using these fraudulent accounts, and Braga made about $220,000 between June 2019 and December 2020.

The accounts were on unnamed apps — one has to assume the likes of Uber and Lyft, but they aren't mentions, along with delivery services, including services that deliver alcohol. Investigators found that Braga "obtained photographs of other individuals’ driver’s licenses while completing alcohol deliveries for one of the companies and used those photographs to attempt to create fraudulent accounts under the individuals’ names."

Per to the Department of Justice release:

According to the charging documents, the defendants allegedly used victims’ identifying information to apply for driver accounts with the rideshare and delivery companies – enabling them to pass the companies’ required background checks and create driver accounts in victims’ names. At times, it is alleged that the defendants edited victims’ driver’s license images to display photos of the drivers renting or buying the fraudulent accounts in order to circumvent facial recognition technology that the rideshare and delivery companies used as a security measure...
In connection with the scheme, Cabral obtained driver’s licenses and Social Security numbers that he and his co-conspirators procured from the DarkNet and other sources. Cabral also admitted that he paid co-conspirators to alter driver’s license photos to display pictures of other individuals. He used these stolen identifiers to create numerous fraudulent accounts with the rideshare and delivery companies and supplied these identifiers to other co-conspirators who also created fraudulent accounts. Cabral advertised fraudulent accounts for sale or rent to Brazilian nationals living in the United States via Facebook as well as WhatsApp and Telegraph messaging apps. He managed these accounts and attempted to prevent them from being closed by the companies for fraud.

Also, "It is further alleged that the defendants used fraudulent driver accounts to exploit referral bonus programs offered by the rideshare and delivery companies and used 'bots' and GPS 'spoofing' technology to increase the income earned from the companies."

There was some technological sophistication at play — Cabral apparently had a bot that allowed drivers to skip to the front of the line in claiming available deliveries, in order to claim the most lucrative ones.

Both men will now be sentenced, and could face up to 20 years in prison for the wire fraud charge, and up to two years for the identity theft charge, along with fines.

Photo: Paul Hanaoka