A Phoenix couple allegedly stole money from hundreds of consumers during a spree that lasted almost a year, according to a federal indictment that was filed in U.S. District Court in Arizona.
The couple worked hard at their thefts, eventually amassing a total of $1.5 million in stolen funds, according to lawyers on both sides of the case. To reach that total, they utilized nearly 2,000 stolen credit card numbers or credit cards. They used the stolen cards to take out cash.
But the couple, Dewayne Frederick Johnson and Antoinette Suzanne Arangua, reportedly went beyond what the average thief would do with a credit card. The charges state they took other credit cards and encoded the stolen numbers onto them. Then they did a trial run with the stolen numbers at gas stations and stores before using them to make bigger purchases, according to the Phoenix New Times.
The couple allegedly had quite an operation, using a credit card encoder, credit card embossers, and other items to perpetrate their fraud. The thefts reportedly occurred in Phoenix and Tucson.
Upon capture, the couple was charged with conspiracy, possession of illegal equipment, counterfeit cards, and devices, as well as four counts of aggravated ID theft, according to the article.
During a recent court appearance, Johnson pleaded guilty to one conspiracy count. As part of a plea bargain, the other charges were dropped. At his sentencing, Johnson could receive a prison sentence of up to five years, the Phoenix New Times reported.
While pleading guilty to the charge, Johnson explained how he pulled off the thefts and implicated Arangua in the crimes as well. They would test the cards on small purchases at Phoenix gas stations and keep using the cards until they learned the banks hadn’t caught on by canceling them. When they felt they were in the clear, he said they took the fake cards to grocery stores and used them to buy gift cards and prepaid debit cards. Cases of synthetic identity theft have increased in the last year from 2016, according to an earlier LendEDU report.
Then they would take the gift cards to busy gas stations, get a small amount of gas, and ask for the balance in cash, according to the charges. They focused on busy attendants because they would be less likely to question the purchase. After the card companies would figure out they had been defrauded, they would freeze the accounts and the couple would start over with other cards.
How to Protect Yourself From Credit Card Fraud
It can be difficult to protect yourself from credit card fraud, but you can take steps to reduce the risk. When you use gas stations, you should watch out for credit card skimmers, which are devices criminals place over gas station machine slots to steal customer information. To spot these, people should look at the card slots of all the gas station pumps and stay away from any that look different. Many criminals use double-sided tape to attach the skimmers, so one good pull on a card reader should let you know if a skimmer is attached.
Cardholders should also shred all the documents they receive that have their credit card number on it. They should also report any lost or potentially stolen credit cards right away and review their billing statement every month for fraud. If they spot any unfamiliar charges, they should alert their bank immediately.
Author: Shannon Serpette
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