Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Foiling a credit card scam, chocolate, and Vietnam

EDITOR'S NOTE: Typically, my father Leif is in the newspaper for one of two reasons - our chocolate has been awarded; or, as a local businessman and active citizen, he's sounding off at a town meeting about traffic patterns, development, etc. This is a bit different ... Dad recently alerted the Federal Bureau of Investigations to a credit card scam! The following was published last week in the The Northwest Herald of Crystal Lake, Ill.

Chocolate for Vietnam? Richmond candy shop targeted in scam

By SARAH SUTSCHEK - ssutschek@shawmedia.com

RICHMOND - The first order for chocolates to be sent to Vietnam was odd. But by the fifth or sixth, Leif Anderson knew something was up.

“Vietnam is a problem any time of year because of temperatures,” said Anderson, who owns Anderson’s Candy Shop in Richmond.

Even if the chocolate is headed to a cooler area, there’s no guarantee that it won’t go through a more tropical area depending on the route.

Fifteen orders to be shipped to Vietnamese cities came in around Christmas under 15 different names from locations across the United States. Canada, as well. The total was between $1,300 and $1,400.

It was a credit card scam, and with some detective work on his own, Anderson was able to track down 13 of the 15 credit-card holders. Only two of them knew their information had been stolen.

Anderson said he had the credit-card holders’ names and ZIP codes. They were of different demographics: young, old, male, female, American, Canadian.

One of the scam’s targets was a high school junior whose mother answered the phone and insisted that her kid didn’t have a credit card.

The mom found out otherwise, Anderson said.

“Two of them were upset that I could get their information and thought I was the one trying to steal their credit card,” Anderson said. “I said, ‘No, I already have your credit card.’ Later, they all called back and were thankful.”

Anderson didn’t fill the orders, and the charges ended up being reversed, he said.

“If they notify their credit-card company, they’re not liable, which is the reason I was trying to get through to them,” he said.

The scam was sophisticated enough that fake phone numbers were used, as well as fake email addresses that would reply when confirmation was sent.

FBI spokesman Ross Rice declined to comment on any specific case, but said that without a financial loss, there is no federal prosecution.

“We have so many cases like this,” Rice said. “There has to be a substantial economic loss to one or more individuals.”

The FBI also doesn’t have jurisdiction to conduct an investigation outside the United States, Rice said.

“If a fraudulently purchased item goes somewhere outside the U.S., we have to rely on the local law enforcement in the affected country,” he said.

But a scam involving chocolate was a new one to him.

“They could have been testing to see if the credit cards would go through, but that’s really the only thing I can think of,” he said.

The idea had occurred to Anderson, who was wondering where the profit is in such a scam.

“It’s very puzzling,” he said. “We’re all very suspicious here now. If something doesn’t smell right, you always check first.”