New charges are being brought against a New York City man arrested in Waynesboro last month, as he’s been linked to a larger operation. Police arrested 24-year-old James Joseph of Brooklyn, NY on Sept. 21, after he allegedly used fake credit cards at several area Dollar General stores.
An officer responded to Dollar General, located at 990 Hopeman Parkway, for a report of a man using multiple credit cards unsuccessfully to buy gift cards. By the time the officer arrived, however, the man had gone.
“He was very conspicuous, enough that the clerk at the store was concerned that he was possibly doing some credit card fraud,” said Waynesboro Police Sgt. Brian Edwards. “He would give her a card, it would come back, then he would give her another card and it would come back.”
He was then seen at the Dollar General in Fishersville, where he was also trying to use multiple credits for purchases. Eventually, officers found him at the other Waynesboro Dollar General store at 1317 West Broad Street. When the officer attempted to identify him, the man gave a fake name and birth date.
Since the individual was a suspect in credit card fraud and they could not positively identify him, the officer attempted to detain the man in handcuffs, but he pulled away and ran to a waiting vehicle. The officer then used a Taser and with help from other officers, was able to restrain Joseph. Once they had him in custody, police found a New York identification card under the name of James Joseph and charged him for the misdemeanor offense of falsely identifying himself to law enforcement. He was also charged with bribery of a public official, after attempting to bribe officers at the scene.
During the search of his vehicle and person, the officers located several dozen gift cards and credit cards which did not bear his name. The incident led police to start a credit card fraud and forgery investigation. They believe Joseph was working as a low level associate for a large organized crime operation, according to Edwards.
“[Large criminal organizations] send these low level guys into rural areas and think the local police aren’t going to dig too deep,” he said.
Working with a special agent with the United States Secret Service, it was determined that several of the credit cards confiscated on Joseph at his arrest had been fabricated with credit card numbers from financial institutions that are outside Virginia. It is believed that the numbers were hacked from the financial institutions. The fraudulent credit cards are then used to buy gift cards and prepaid phone cards that are in turn sold “on the street.”
Recently, stores including Target and Wal-Mart experienced data breaches that exposed customer credit card information and it is from these kinds of leaks that criminals are able to steal credit card numbers. From there, it takes just a swipe to input the sensitive information on a new card.
Targeting credit cards
“They get the actual credit card info when it was swiped at the store,” said Waynesboro Detective Sgt. Robert Luzader. “They take the info and put it on a magnetic strip. They have it in a digital form and then download it to a new card.”
The hackers are able to reprogram any credit or gift card with the stolen credit card information, using just a computer and card reader. The organized crime group then sends people out to small towns and cities to buy hundreds and thousands of gift cards and prepaid phone cards, which they then sell on the street.
Luzader explained the difficulty of prosecuting these cases because any gift card bought with the fraudulent credit card has a real, untraceable balance. The banks are the real victims in these cases because they must refund their credit card customers and often never see the inside of a courtroom.
“If these guys used their talents for good stuff, they could do some good things,” Luzader added.
At this point, Waynesboro police are waiting to hear back from federal authorities because the case crosses many state lines.
Joseph faces four counts of credit card or credit card number theft, three counts of credit card forgery, one county of bribery of a public official and falsely identifying oneself to law enforcement. He is currently being held without bond at Middle River Regional Jail.