Credit cards targeted in communities across NHBy MICHAEL COUSINEAU
New Hampshire Union Leader
February 21. 2016 8:14PM
In a matter of three minutes, two men used multiple credit cards, freshly minted with stolen information, to buy more than $10,000 in gift cards from the Sam’s Club in Hudson, police said.
The same Texas-based organized crime ring believed responsible also planted devices on gas pumps in at least five New Hampshire communities to steal or skim those credit card numbers from unsuspecting people.
Those ring members used some of those pilfered numbers on new cards at multiple Sam’s Clubs — along with fake driver’s licenses — to sign up for Sam’s Club memberships and buy thousands in gift cards last month.
That ring allegedly made fraudulent purchases estimated at more than $50,000 in New Hampshire alone — and more than $100,000 when Massachusetts is included — in a matter of several weeks, according to Hudson detective Allison Cummings.
“It’s that kind of money,” Cummings said.
The crime ring attached devices to credit card readers inside several gas station pumps and were able to steal credit card numbers, police said. Criminals then used card-making machines to produce cards that they took to stores to buy gift cards — favoring $200 MasterCard versions — that can be used or resold easily.
Minutes after the Texas ring bought those gift cards at the Hudson Sam’s Club, police chased the two men and their driver into Tyngsboro, Mass., where they were arrested. Authorities are working to identify their associates and Hudson police asked people with information to call the Hudson police station.
According to Hudson police, the Texas ring allegedly used skimmed credit card numbers to make purchases at Sam’s Clubs in Hudson, Manchester and Concord, the Wal-Mart in Bedford, as well as buybuy BABY and Bed Bath & Beyond in Nashua.
A worker at the Sam’s Club in Hudson declined to comment Friday and a message left at the corporate level wasn’t returned.
Not just one group
“It’s not just one group out doing this,” Hudson detective Lt. Jason Lucontoni said. “There’s various groups we’re trying to target.”
Manchester police Detective Sgt. Tim Patterson said his department had a Londonderry woman report her card was used fraudulently at the Sam’s Club in Manchester.
Patterson said stores should question people when they come in to buy $1,000 or more worth of gift cards or flip through a stack of credit cards, swiping them to see which ones get approved.
Nancy Kyle, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Retail Association, said: “I think most stores are (questioning) anything out of the ordinary.”
Last September, a maintenance worker discovered a skimmer inside a gas pump at the Irving station on Route 3 in Tilton. The criminals didn’t come back to retrieve the information before the discovery, but could have used the skimmer multiple times before it was discovered, according to Tilton police detective Bryan Keeler.
Tilton police received a couple of complaints from “people stating there were charges on their credit card that were fraudulent and that they had gone to the gas station,” but police aren’t certain whether that skimmer actually played a part in those fraudulent charges, Keeler said.
“We know this crime is happening,” he said.
Who is left paying for the fraud?
Not the consumer holding the credit card, according to Christiana Thornton, president/chief executive officer of the New Hampshire Bankers Association, which represents 37 banks.
“Regardless of the technology being used by either party, the consumer will always be made whole,” Thornton said.
Banks and retailers are adopting chip technology for credit cards as a better way to safeguard accounts, but some industries, including gas stations, are exempt until October 2017, she said.
Thornton doesn’t know how much New Hampshire banks lose in credit card and debit fraud every year, but called it a “significant” number.
“The fraudsters are always coming out with new ways to circumvent the security we have in place, and banks are having to invest more human resources and technology resources to be able to fend off fraudulent activities,” she said.