In both of those physical situations, the objective is to use the card as quickly as possible. Popular approaches are to quickly make expensive purchases and then discard the card. Buying a high-dollar amount of giftcards right away is also popular because it can buy the thief several additional days to spend the money before authorities can connect the stolen credit card to the stolen giftcards.
But when thieves steal large numbers of credit cards—the TJX breach, for example, involved the thieves accessing the credit card data of some 46 million consumers—the cards are sometimes changed, but they are often not touched until some fraud is discovered. That gives the fraudsters plenty of time to create fake cards and sell them to other thieves.
Once fraudulent activity starts, it keeps going until the credit card company detects a fraudulent pattern and calls the consumer or until consumers receive their next credit card statement and notify their bank.
In the Florida case, the defendants ran a diversified fraud business, Camerieri said, with numbers being sold in addition to various types of credit cards. The credit card plants run by the defendants created full cards—complete with embossing, bank and credit card logos, holograms and properly encoded magnetic stripes on the back—as well as so-called white plastic, which is just a plain card with the properly encoded magstripe.
The white plastic cards are popular because they are cheaper than the full cards (which often sell for between $50 and $100 each). Although they cant be used when dealing with retail employees, they work well with self-checkout systems such as gas stations and supermarket checkout.
"Weve seen a lot of HomeDepot," Camerieri said, referring to the home improvement chains extensive use of self-checkout lanes. "You can pay at the gas staton all day long with that stuff." Other retailers seen repeatedly in this case were Wal-Mart and Lowes and "all of the electronics chains," said the case agent.
Those arrested were Miguel Alegria, 46, of Hialeah, Fla.; Raynier Pupo, 22, of Miami, Fla.; Ariel Montero, 32, of Aventura, Fla.; Javier Padron-Bravo, 35, of Aventura, Fla; Julio Lopez, 30, of Hialeah, Fla.; and Anett Villar, 26, of Hialeah, Fla. Charges against some of the defendants included aggravated identity theft, counterfeit credit card trafficking and conspiracy.
Cuban Nationals Alegria, Pupo, Montero and Padron-Bravo all pled guilty in late June to the conspiracy counts, in exchange for a plea agreement with the government for the other charges to be dropped, Camerieri said. Alegria, Pupo, Montero and Padron-Bravo are scheduled for sentencing in September, which is when the judge will decide whether to accept the plea agreement.
The probe started when an agent from the Secret Services Nashville field office went online while undercover—as part of what was ultimately called Operation Blinky—and tried to do business with Lopez.
Retail Center Editor Evan Schuman can be reached at Evan_Schuman@ziffdavis.com.
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