Use of fraudulent credit cards 'becoming fairly common'
Published: Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 9:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 9:00 p.m.
Last week, two men from Tampa tried to use fake credit cards to buy $400 worth of gift cards from a Walgreens in Gainesville. After they were denied, and the manager alerted police, Edel Gomez, 25, and Yuneski Perdomo, 31, were arrested in a vehicle near the store.
Gainesville police officers charged Gomez with fraudulent use of a credit card, trafficking in counterfeit credit cards and scheme to defraud. Perdomo was charged with accessory after the fact. Police think they may be part of a larger ring of criminals.
On Tuesday, two more men were arrested, accused of using fake credit cards, this time at the Oaks Mall. Both men, Boris Mauricio Betancourt Hernandez, 26, and Yoandy Cedeno Pena, 30, are also from Tampa. It's too soon to know, police say, if the cases are related.
Detective Matt Goeckel, 31, part of the GPD's Economic Crimes Unit, is the one who chases these criminals through trails of paper. Along with Detective Dave Cannon, he works backward from the crimes -- contacting banks and verifying facts with credit companies -- to build stronger cases. He's been with GPD for about six years, he said, with two years in the unit. While it might not be the most exciting work to an outsider's eyes, he said it suits him.
"I enjoy it. It's different," he said. "But it's definitely something you have to want to do. It has more to do with numbers and math and money. Not the most exciting work in the world for some."
A typical day for the unit starts with a review of current cases, he said, and then subpoenas are sent out to banks and businesses for surveillance footage. The unit keeps spreadsheets and does lots of daily work on computers, not unlike the criminals they chase.
"We try to fill in the blanks," he said.
With the Walgreens case, police said that numerous credit cards were found on Gomez. Goeckel said some criminals are making these cards themselves, from actual plastic.
Florida perpetrators generally work up and down the I-75 corridor, he said. They'll keep hitting different stores, and the Economic Crimes Unit has to request video camera surveillance from the stores to help track them.
"It's becoming fairly common," he said. "Two of these in a week is pretty big. You'll see this stuff happening in other parts of the country as well."
Sometimes a card won't swipe but the criminals will ask a store clerk to punch in a number manually, and it'll go through.
There are other methods of stealing credit cards, he said, and the best way to protect yourself is to keep track of your credit statements and look out for unusual activity. It's also a good idea to keep your card close to you and be aware of your surroundings when using it.
"Be vigilant," he said, "and keep an eye on your stuff."
A few years ago, a group of defrauders installed a credit card skimmer at a local gas station. The device sent information from the cards to the thieves, and the numbers were compromised. Goeckel said he spent a lot of tedious hours chasing the information, but the unit eventual caught up with the criminals. Both economic crimes detectives also work on task forces with federal agencies -- Goeckel with the Secret Service and Cannon with the FBI.
Credit card fraud, though a large part of information crime, isn't the only method used.
Some criminals make fake checks from stolen account numbers. They use computer programs to print out the counterfeits, and use them at local "mom and pop" stores. The crimes can seemingly go unpunished at first, Goeckel said, because of the amount of time it takes to contact banks and institutions.
The Internet can also make these crimes seem easier to perpetrate.
"It makes it easier to obtain the resources needed," Goeckel said. "We see people from all walks of life, and they think it's easy money, but it's not. The bang for the buck is not there. What they make is not worth the time they spend."
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