Thursday, September 20, 2012

Video Killed the Wannabe Star: The Frustration of Credit Card Fraud

I read a lot of murder mysteries and watch a lot of Discovery ID shows. Normally when police catch the "bad guy," detectives help gather evidence. Eventually it falls to the prosecutors to present the case to the jury to get a conviction and a just sentence.

In recent years, two things have revolutionized the way cases are prosecuted, and at times can solidify a case that years ago might have been unwinnable. One of these aids is the ability to positively identify a culprit through DNA evidence. The other aid is the growth of video surveillance and the ability of average Joes to capture video footage on cell phones.

In the county where I live, video has been used to help decrease the number of auto thefts. Arlington Police Department was the first in the DC metro area to utilize "bait cars" to capture thieves who have a propensity to steal cars or items from them. Since the program's inception ten years ago, over 200 arrests have been made, and the conviction rate is 100%. That's because the video evidence makes it impossible for the defendant to claim mistaken identity or claim there was an innocent reason for him/them being in the car.

Back in 1979, the year I graduated from high school, there was a song called "Video Killed the Radio Star." We've come a long way since then with video and technology. Earlier this summer, Arlington PD released a few clips from some of the thieves they have caught. The reactions of some of these criminals are priceless.

Bait CarI know that these simple videos are not as entertaining as some of the cases depicted on the TV show "Bait Car." But the fact that these took place in my city at least lets me know that police are serious about trying to protect the property of the citizens. Criminals cry "entrapment!" when the cops pull them over, but at least the word gets around that these bait cars are out there, and if even one criminal is deterred from taking MY car, then I am happy.

I have no sympathy for thugs like these who have no respect for other people's property. Many of them want to be stars in their own minds. My disdain for criminals has been reinforced in the last few months, as I have twice been the victim of credit card fraud. The first time occurred back in June, just before I was set to go to Haiti. My credit card company called to ask me about two suspicious transactions on my credit card to a website called Apparently there is a lot of credit card fraud on dating websites like this. One charge had gone through ($13) but the second was denied and flagged ($53). That's when I was notified, and I confirmed that these were not valid charges.

For the next few days I tried multiple times to get information from Zoosk. I called repeatedly and identified myself as an attorney. They were apologetic, but refused to release any information about the person who tried to use my card -- such as a name, address, or email address. I thought about filing a complaint, but I was not even sure who to call. The FBI has online reporting, but that's useless. Any information I might have retrieved probably would have been fraudulent anyway. But it infuriates me that "privacy laws" protect criminals. My card was cancelled, and since I share that one with my husband, we both had to wait until our new cards were mailed to us.

Fast forward to yesterday when I got an email from my same credit card company, asking about a suspicious transaction on the brand new card (the one that arrived in late June). I called the number given for the fraud department and found out the transaction was attempted Tuesday (9/18) evening at 10:48 p.m. ET in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I have never been to Fort Wayne, and I do not know anyone in Fort Wayne. I learned that the transaction had been denied, in the amount of $128.83, at a Meijer store on Lima Road. Not only that, but a second transaction had actually been successful in Fort Wayne, a few miles up the same road, at a Shell station, in the amount of $129.60, at 10:22 p.m. These brazen thugs had swiped the card at Shell, then feeling emboldened had gone up the road and tried again at Meijer. Apparently, the close proximity of these two transactions in a place so far from my normal pattern of spending was what triggered the denial of the second transaction. I do not know if they were inside the store or at the outside fuel station. Hopefully that information will be forthcoming though.

I was so angry to have been violated again. The first time, the Zoosk people said that sometimes these jerks just start punching in 16-digit numbers to try and get one that works so they can buy things or get memberships to prey upon people. That left a lot of questions about expiration dates and PIN numbers, but I decided not to go any farther with investigating. This time, however, I decided to do what I can to get these guys.

Meijer store on Lima Rd
To make a long story short, I made probably 3 dozen calls yesterday and today between the Meijer store, the Shell station, the Fort Wayne Police Department, and even the Arlington Police Department. Every person I have talked to has been extremely polite and, after some initial hesitation, very cooperative. I think when they heard the resolution in my voice and all that I have done to get this organized and provide a tidy package for them to go about trying to nail these guys, they appreciated my effort. I didn't hurt that I told them I am a former prosecutor myself. But there is still a sense of "privacy rights" for the criminals, as I was not entitled to get copies of the tapes nor to get information about who was working at the time to find out  if they could tell me anything about the UNSUB (the term they use on Criminal Minds and in some crime novels for "unknown subject").

Shell Station on Lima Rd

I did learn that both the Meijer store and the Shell station have surveillance video. Having gotten the Fort Wayne Police Department on board, now, the stores are going to make copies and the police will pick it up and review it. It would be so awesome if they spot the criminals on both tapes, get an ID and nail their backsides to the wall. I felt a rush of adrenaline several times as I was calling and explaining and making progress.

Maybe I should go back to criminal law work. But then again, as much as I have changed in the way I view people in the years since I left the prosecutors' office, I would probably never let the defendants cop a plea! Lock 'em up and throw away the key!

As for the thugs who stole my credit card information, I'm hoping the videos at Meijer and Shell are as good as the ones from the Arlington PD bait car!

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