MARYLAND HEIGHTS, MO (KTVI) – Maryland Heights police are urging you to check your credit card statements closely. A clever group of Detroit criminals was caught using credit card data, stolen from St. Louisans.
These arrests may be part of a larger identity theft ring that local, federal, and international authorities are investigating.
It started with a routine traffic stop, at 141 and Riverport Drive, on January 8th.
Maryland Heights Police Officer Mark Fedak says, "The officer became a little suspicious, some of the information they were giving just wasn't matching up. There were three of them in the vehicle, all from the Detroit area."
Maryland Heights police searched the vehicle, and found fake Michigan drivers' licenses, dozens of pre-paid MasterCard gift cards, and pricey electronics.
Police soon discovered that 22 year-old Michael Brown, 22 year-old Joseph Umoh and 30 year-old Lakesha Smith had been in St. Louis for several days, basing their operation out of the Riverport Holiday Inn Express.
Each day, police say they shopped at St. Louis-area Best Buy stores. They bought big-ticket items, using the MasterCard gift cards.
Fedak explains, "They were using stolen credit card information to re-code the gift cards to function as actual credit cards. So instead of working as a prepaid debit card for say, $25, they were able to use it as a regular credit card with whatever credit limit that card had."
Credit card companies were none the wiser, when stolen cards belonging to St. Louisans were used at local Best Buys.
"It doesn't produce the same red flags as it would if the cards were used, say, in the Detroit, Michigan area. So that's why they traveled to St. Louis: to use the stolen credit card information to make these purchases," says Fedak.
Maryland Heights police have a hunch this crime is tied to one of the large, recent data breaches, and part of a larger criminal operation. Fedak says, "Our concern is that there are more victims in the St. Louis area that we're not aware of yet, and they have not become aware that their information has been jeopardized, either."
These three suspects are already being investigated on federal and international levels for wiring money to the Ukraine, possibly to obtain the stolen credit card data.