BOSTON (CBS) – A growing number of consumers know the feeling: the moment you discover your credit card has been compromised.
Law enforcement agencies tell the WBZ I-Team fraud is exploding around the Boston area.
The I-Team’s Ryan Kath recently had his card number stolen and used for several fraudulent purchases: $41.60 of gas at a convenience store; $92.19 of groceries; and a $121.75 stay at the Holiday Inn in Dedham.
Kath noticed the suspicious transactions on his bank account when he was paying bills, so he quickly called his bank to cancel his card and report the fraud. The disputed purchases were quickly refunded.
However, since the purchases were local, Kath decided to investigate to find out how someone had used his credit card number, especially since he had never lost the physical card.
Surveillance video from a Mattapan convenience store along Blue Hill Avenue revealed a man walking in to buy gas and a Bic lighter. At the counter, he takes out a card and swipes it through the machine to complete the purchase.
Surveillance video and photos show the same suspect making the fraudulent transactions at the grocery store and hotel.
Note: Detectives have not identified the suspect and ask the public to contact police if they recognize the man in the images.
Akmal Moawed operates four gas stations around the Boston area, including the location where the suspect used Kath’s card. The small business owner of 34 years said the six-month period from last August through February was particularly brutal.
“It’s a substantial amount of money,” Moawed said of his business losses chalked up to fraud. “We are all vulnerable. It can happen to me and happen to you.”
Recently, Moawed started requiring customers to show identification when using credit cards, but that still doesn’t deter all fraud.
For instance, in the surveillance video, the clerk takes a long look at the suspect’s ID before the fraudulent transaction continues undetected.
“It’s always the thief is smarter than technology,” Moawed said. “These people seem to be ahead of the game. They know what’s coming and know how to beat it.”
Boston police detective Steven Blair, a department veteran of 35 years, said fraud has spiked because criminals are rushing to beat the more secure chip card technology before it’s fully implemented.
“The window is closing and they are pushing as hard as they can,” Blair said. “They all want to go out and have a good time partying, free dinners, buy some clothes, maybe pick up a TV on the way home.”
Blair explained stolen credit card numbers are cheap, something that can be purchased for as little as 25 cents apiece. And then with some software and a simple swipe, a criminal can program the new number on a card’s magnetic strip.
Blair showed the I-Team some of the ways criminals are obtaining consumers’ credit card numbers: devices that sit camouflaged over ATM machines, skimming devices hidden in gas pumps, even tiny devices concealed by restaurant employees and used when you pay the bill.
“Wherever your credit card is being used, there is a skimming device made just for that purpose,” Blair told the I-Team.
Sally Molhoek, who runs a photography business in suburban Dallas, recently discovered her credit card number was used at several upscale Boston hotels. Her bank had detected the suspicious activity and contacted her to inquire about the transactions.
“It was just kind of a shock. I was like, ‘No, I have not been to Boston.’ I was angry because I knew it was going to be a big pain,” Molhoek said.
The small business owner said she had to change her credit card number on 18 different web sites that had the info stored for things like monthly automatic payments.
But Molhoek soon received a call from Detective Blair, who informed her police had arrested two suspects accused of using her stolen card number.
According to court documents, police arrested Tedje Menard and John Lubin at the Boston Harbor Hotel on February 28. Menard was caught in the hotel room and Lubin was at the spa getting a manicure.
Police recovered fake IDs and fraudulent credit cards during the arrests. Both defendants are now charged with larceny.
At an April court date, the I-Team asked Lubin how many hotels he’s stayed at while using someone else’s credit card number.
“Are you crazy?!” he responded.
From Texas, Molhoek said she was thrilled to hear about the arrests.
“I was really impressed with how quickly this all got resolved,” she said. “I’m under the assumption that most people get away with it all the time. But they are probably smarter about it and don’t stick around to get a manicure.”
Blair admits victories like that are rare in the neverending game of electronic cat and mouse.
“It’s very tough to catch people,” he told the I-Team. “And your victims most of the time are from all around the world.”
The detective advises consumers to frequently check their online bank accounts for any unauthorized purchases. He also suggests using credit cards—instead of debit—so customers can dispute fraudulent purchases and get refunds from their banks.
Blair also recommended customers use their hand to shield their pin numbers at ATMs, just in case there is a skimming device with a hidden camera trying to capture debit card information.