Police battle credit card fraud in South Florida www.privateofficer.com
West Palm Beach Fla April 1 2012 Blank credit cards, holograms, magnetic strips and stolen account information are selling in bulk on websites that offer identity thieves a one-stop shop for their counterfeit-credit-card schemes.
U.S. Secret Service agents in South Florida are fighting an uphill battle against increasingly high-tech credit card crime, which harms businesses and consumers alike, said Matthew Lynch, resident agent-in-charge of the Secret Service office in West Palm Beach.
It’s a constant battle,” said Lynch. “[Criminals] can get on Interstate 95 and hit a lot of places in a weekend.”
Matthew Francis, 24, and Troy Lemons, 29, were among four men indicted in the last two weeks in two separate cases linked to counterfeit-credit-card crime in South Florida. The men allegedly hit Apple stores in Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale and Aventura, pulling out counterfeit credit cards to make off with thousands of dollars of electronics.
The two are blamed for ripping off more than $600,000 from Apple stores around the country, according a federal indictment filed Thursday. The Secret Service is the federal agency tasked with investigating counterfeit currency and financial crimes.
Florida topped the nation with 33,595 identity-theft complaints in 2011, according to the Federal Trade Commission. It followed California and New York with the most credit card identity-theft complaints that year — 3,412.
Hackers and credit card “skimmers” sell stolen bank and credit-card information from unsuspecting users, then make fake credit cards linked to real accounts. Counterfeit-credit-card trafficking rings make it easy for criminals to get everything online, Lynch said.
On March 16, federal authorities busted alleged members of a nationwide fake credit card operation on racketeering charges. The 19 people arrested, including three men from Florida, allegedly ran a large-scale network of complex financial scams.
On their website, blank credit cards sold for about $20 each, and stolen data from 100 accounts for $1,500, according to a federal indictment filed in Nevada.
In a separate case, two men were indicted March 15 in Fort Lauderdale after police found them at the Galleria Mall with more than 100 fake credit cards.
William Lezama, 21, and Fabian Loya, 20, had traveled from California to South Florida to buy high-end electronics with the fake cards, according to the federal affidavit. Loya bought an iPhone 4s at the Apple store in Town Center at Boca Raton, but a security guard at the Apple store at the Galleria Mall called police when Lezama’s card was declined there.
Both men told police a man nicknamed “Gordo” hired them to make purchases with the fake credit cards, the affidavit said.
“From these purchases, Lezama and Loya were promised a percentage of the profits,” a Secret Service agent wrote in the affidavit.
Each was charged with access-device fraud, which carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.
Criminals are getting smarter and more sophisticated as they try to stay under the radar, said Miami criminal defense attorney Clayton Kaeiser, who handles many identity-theft cases. They’ll travel from place to place to max out the credit cards, but try to keep spending down to avoid attention from the Secret Service, he said.
In the end, the victims are the consumers, Kaeiser said. They’re the ones who get the bill when identity thieves link fake credit cards to their stolen account information. Most banks and credit cards will reimburse unauthorized purchases, but consumers still have to deal with their damaged credit history.
“The worst thing is getting your credit straightened out,” Kaeiser said. “You have to go through a lot of hoops.”