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Man gets five years in prison for 'cracking cards' bank fraud scheme

A man who stole more than $184,000 in a little-known bank fraud scheme called “cracking cards” was sentenced to five years in federal prison Thursday, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Christopher Cain, 26, recruited people to provide their debit cards and personal identification numbers — usually with a promise that they’d get a cut of the profits.

He’d deposit counterfeit checks and then withdraw bank funds at automatic teller machines using the PIN numbers and debit cards.

Often, the cardholders got nothing, but were left dealing with banks looking for their money.

Cain pleaded guilty to bank fraud in July.

His attorney stressed Cain cooperated with authorities — giving up at least 15 others, including a relative, who were involved in fraudulent ATM transactions.

Cain also identified three people who make counterfeit checks, according to his lawyer, Frank Himel.

Cain suffers from bipolar disorder and is a drug abuser, Himel added.

Because of his mental illness, and the help he gave the government, Himel has argued Cain should have received a maximum sentence of only 30 months in prison.

Cain, who has a tattoo of an ATM on one of his arms, used a recruiter to contact cardholders through ads on Facebook, YouTube and other social media. The cardholders were often gullible college students looking to make a quick buck, sources say.

Cain committed the scams for more than two years, targeting university campuses, concerts and other places with concentrations of cash-hungry young people.

At one currency exchange alone on the South Side, Cain made more than 50 cash withdrawals, officials said. In those transactions, he used cards belonging to 49 different cardholders.

One investigator said more than 1,000 young people have reported being victims of the cracking-cards scam in Chicago over the past two years.

Contributing: Frank Main, Jon Seidel