Patterico's Pontifications

12/30/2007

Identity Theft, with Fries

Filed under: Crime — DRJ @ 8:19 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

An 18-year-old Wendy’s worker in suburban Chicago has been charged in a sophisticated identify theft scam:

“A woman who worked at a suburban Wendy’s fast food restaurant has been charged in a credit card scam. She is accused of dirty dealing when customers used credit cards to pay for food. Investigators said she swiped the card, and a whole lot more.

As CBS 2 West Suburban Bureau Chief Mike Puccinelli reports, authorities say the thefts happened in late September and early October when 18-year-old Tina Swopes was working the drive-up window at the Plainfield Wendy’s at 134th Street and South Route 59.

“We have seven victims that we know of,” said Jim Caliendo of the Plainfield Police Department. Swopes now faces seven counts of identity theft. Caliendo says it was a sophisticated theft operation the likes of which he’s never seen in his 17 years on the force.”

Swopes used a hand-held credit card reading device she kept in her pocket to scan the cards and then later make purchases:

“She had the credit card shimming device in her pocket,” he said. What Swopes had in her pocket was a credit card reading device. They’re available on the Internet for less than $100 in many cases. Police say Swopes would take orders and swipe cards through the restaurant’s credit card reader. Then she’d swipe it through her own credit card reader. After that police say she’d go home and allegedly hook her reader up to her laptop to access the numbers.

“She would download the information in a computer and she would download that information on a dummy credit card where she would make purchases with that credit card,” Caliendo said.”

The police believe Swopes obtained information from 40-50 patrons and have asked victims to come forward. Wendy’s stated it was cooperating with the police and that Ms. Swopes is no longer an employee. (That wasn’t a hard call.)

In an unrelated but not surprising article given this story, identity theft is at an all-time high.

— DRJ

14 Responses to “Identity Theft, with Fries”

  1. Swopes swipes. It’s all so obvious…hindsight being what it is.

    PC14 (f74534)

  2. I checked out the story on Swopes.com and they say the status is “untrue.”

    Seriously, though, I have seen cases like this. In one I handled years ago, a woman was going around making tens of thousands of dollars of jewelry purchases, using credit cards that had all been manufactured from information taken from cards swiped in a similar fashion at the same Chinese restaurant in the Midwest.

    Patterico (699c28)

  3. The good news for individual consumers is that, while slightly inconvenient to resolve, this type of theft doesn’t really sting. I’ve had a few unauthorized charges to my credit cards over the years, and have never had to pay a single one, once they were investigate by the banks’ fraud departments.

    The bad news is for consumers as a whole: The cost of these fraudulent transactions is part of the overall cost of goods from any merchant that accepts credit cards (in other words, 99.5 percent of them). Visa and Mastercard, having achieved almost total monopoly status on the electronic-funds market, pass much of the fraud charges back onto the stores where the fraud took place, in the form of charge-backs.

    The rest of the cost is simply loaded into the massive transaction fees charged to merchants that are effectively a private sales tax. Since the charges are passed on to all consumers (not just the banks’ own credit card users) mastercard/visa have a fairly low incentive to stop the theft.

    Don’t get me started on how they maintain their monopoly, with contracts that force merchants to charge more to non-card-carrying customers, so the banks can waive all annual fees and even give “cash back” to their own cardholders. . .

    Phil (6d9f2f)

  4. Phil, how do business charge more to non-card carrying customers? Not that Visa and MC dont have an exploitative monopoly, but I’ve never been charged less for using plastic.

    another point: it’s 100% fair and legit that businesses have to pay for the chargeback. These cards produce information, they tell you the name of the cardholder. ID checking would make this crime a lot less common. These fake credit cards often do not match the data on them either.

    This crime can be avoided sometimes, if stores check your credentials for every purchase. So the stores, which are billing me for things I didn’t buy, should pay the price. Visa didn’t do much wrong, did they? I suppose they could have fingerprint scanners at every supermarket, but is there a realistic thing Visa could do that they aren’t doing?

    Jem (9e390b)

  5. how do business charge more to non-card carrying customers?

    By giving them a refund of 1% or 2% of their purchases if they use a certain card. Some stores give as much as a 10% discount if you use their in-house charge card.

    nk (c87736)

  6. nk, I can’t believe i forgot about that. You’re right.

    Jem (9e390b)

  7. This is a very common crime. Here is one of many such gas station-related scams.

    DA Office report

    Patricia (f56a97)

  8. Jem, you make a valid point about ID-checking. Assuming that there isn’t a contractual requirement that merchants accept a credit card even without ID (and there might be, since the banks don’t make money if the merchants deny credit cards for lack of ID and take cash instead), then the merchants are also responsible for the fraud at the point of sale.

    I wasn’t fretting about the poor merchants, just pointing out that ultimately the cost of the fraud is disproportionatly spread upon people who don’t even use charge cards. That’s because banks and merchants pass the cost on to customers, and customers who don’t use cards pay more than customers who do. So the incentives to stopping fraud are lower than they could be.

    Phil (6d9f2f)

  9. Patterico,

    I can’t find anything on Snopes.com that says this story is false and it’s still posted on the Chicago CBS2 website. There’s also video and a mugshot of the suspect. If it’s fake, it’s an elaborate fake.

    DRJ (09f144)

  10. DRJ, Patterico got you. And he got me too, I’ll confess. Swopes =/= Snopes.

    It was a dirty trick and I hope you’ll get even 😉

    SPQR (26be8b)

  11. That was a good one!

    DRJ (09f144)

  12. Yeah, I had an elaborate comment about Snopes all typed out and was seconds away from hitting submit when it dawned on me.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  13. So CBS still has a creative writing department? I thought they fired Dan Rather.

    Vermont Neighbor (2ad0bf)

  14. The good news is this, you can easily prevent this kinds of theft by either contact the banks your self or using a good identity theft service.

    Grace (80fd9e)


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