Nineteen of the 29 suspects have been arrested on an array of fraud charges in the alleged scheme that dates back to 2011, according to a federal complaint. Several suspects are fugitives.
Private messages sent on Facebook invited targets to supply their bank cards' personal identification numbers for a cut of the proceeds. One message began, "You don't know me but we can make some cash together," the complaint says.
Victims also were solicited in person at parties or on the street, with the promise of fast, easy money. In most cases, it should have been clear the proposal was illegal, Fardon told reporters at the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago.
"Before anybody ... is turning over your debit card and your PIN to somebody who is not your mom or dad, you ought to be taking a hard swallow, making sure you know exactly what you're doing," he said.
Charges also can be filed against those who turn over banking information for such fraudulent operations, but that hasn't happened in this case, Fardon said.
Four members of the RACK Boyz are accused of posting a video titled "For the Money" to brag about the money the scheme generated and to enlist others to participate, according to the complaint.
Another suspect, Kevin Ford, 26, of Chicago, works as a rapper under the name Bandman Kevo, the complaint says. It also alleges Ford posted messages on Facebook that said police and federal authorities should be killed, "Like they will you!"
Ford's attorney, Scott L. King, said those references in the complaint and descriptions of the video content were gratuitous. He said bravado was often a marketing ploy by rappers, especially in videos.
"They are not going to post videos of helping little old ladies across the street," he said.
Sixteen Chicago-area defendants are each charged with one count of federal bank fraud, which carries a prison sentence of up to 30 years. Seven others are charged under Illinois law.
Six Indiana suspects, including the RACK Boyz rappers, each face one federal count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, which carries a prison term of up to five years.