As concern over credit card thefts is at an all-time high following high-profile breaches at department store chains, the Secret Service in Chicago is warning that there are still bandits working the old-fashioned way: stealing right from under your nose.
Two suspects were taken into custody by the Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Force this week on charges of credit card fraud. Ghana, investigators say, is becoming a world leader in organized identity theft rings.
This wasn't a case of hacking - the kind of electronic break-in and theft of personal and financial information that resulted in tens of millions of potential victims from Target alone during the Christmas shopping season.
Two Ghana nationals, 23-year old Kwame Nketiah and Samuel Boah, 27, are charged with three counts of theft-by-deception for allegedly using stolen credit card information to buy large quantities of electronics. Authorities say the men used stolen card numbers and "spoofed" computer addresses to make the purchases. They ordered high-end electronics that were then delivered to empty homes or dropboxes in metro Chicago, mostly in and around their own suburban Bolingbrook neighborhood.
Federal investigators say the men located homes for sale, especially vacant homes, and had packages of ill-gotten goods delivered to those homes. A spokesman for the Secret Service says the suspects would simply wait out front and pick up the packages when the delivery truck drove away.
It is unclear how the two obtained stolen credit cards in the first place, but their homeland is in a region of the world that wrote the book on identity theft. Scammers in next-door Nigeria started running fraud schemes through the mail in the 1980s, then by fax machines, finally through email cons, electronic hacking and credit card scanners. Authorities believe the two men in custody were not working alone, and the electronic crimes task force is still working the case.
Bolingbrook police Thursday night told the I-Team that the investigation began on Nov. 13 at a Walmart store. "Officers responded to the above location for the possession of stolen property call" said Bolingbrook Police Lt. Mike Rompa. "Upon arrival, officers were informed the suspect was at the store to pick a television. Employees were able to decipher the suspect was involved with fraudulent activity, as the suspect was being investigated for picking up televisions in other Walmart stores using fraudulent credit cards. The information obtained was documented and detectives continued to investigate this case in conjunction with the Secret Service."
On Tuesday according to Rompa, the Secret Service and local police had the suspects under surveillance and later arrested both of them. The men were found to be "linked to a theft ring and who were prepared to depart from the U.S., back to Ghana" said Lt. Rompa. "Warrants were served for three counts of felony theft on each subject. Samuel Boah (27 years of age) and Kwame Nketiah (23 years of age) were taken into custody, interviewed, processed and transported to Will County Adult Detention Facility. "