Surveillance cameras captured participants in a credit card and gift card theft ring that racked up more than $100,000 in losses in one case alone. Postal inspectors say the nationwide operation is simple and starts with stolen credit card numbers.
“We believe it was through either an online chat room where they purchased these credit card numbers or an
employee at a local merchant,” said U.S. Postal Inspector David Gealey.
Once the thieves have a credit card number, they go to a store that sells gift cards, grab several worth $500 each and proceed to the checkout counter. There, they come up with a phony reason why their credit card can't be swiped.
"They tell the clerk something must have happened to my card, it’s damaged, my dog chewed on it, whatever it may be," said Gealey. "They would get the clerk to manually put the card number into the system. Once they did that, the transaction was completed.”
With the gift cards in hand, the suspects would make a phone call and transfer the money on those gift cards to a prepaid debit card.
“Once they transfer those funds, they are as good as cash to them," said Gealey. "They can go to any merchant or a bank and obtain cash. In five to 10 minutes they obtain $2,500 in cash.”
Postal inspectors were only able to learn the intricacies of the operation through surveillance footage.
“They would never actually give the card to the clerk when they actually asked for it, 'Oh here I’ll just read
you the number,' they would cup the card, and the clerk is just punching in the numbers,” said Gealey.
Once they discovered the thefts, inspectors were able to crosscheck the time of the transactions with cell phone records and credit card statements to nab the thieves.
“All three of the suspects ended up pleading guilty to access device fraud, one of the individuals pleads guilty to aggravated identity theft, and of all the prison terms the shortest was one year,” said Gealey.
To avoid being a victim of this crime, postal inspectors say closely monitor your credit card statements and activity. Inspectors say “very few” of the victims in this case even knew their credit card numbers had been compromised.
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