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Criminal Charges: Volume XV — Recession-proof crimes

Jeremy Simon

Some items are purchased regardless of the state of the economy. In both good times and bad, consumers need food and medicine to live and — since bad habits are tough to break — items like cigarettes and alcohol also continue to be bought.

This week’s assortment of credit card crime and fraud items shows that thieves may also focus on staple items in hard economic times, with stories that include crimes targeting supermarkets, a tobacco store and vending machines.

Purse snatchers prey on unattended shopping carts
I’ve previously warned readers about leaving their wallets and credit cards unattended in a parked car. Perhaps I should also have said something about unattended shopping carts.

A thief prowling the aisles of a Rochester, N.Y., supermarket took advantage of a distracted shopper to ply his trade. The Irondequoit Post (via MPNnow.com) reports that on Oct. 28, the Tops shopper had her purse, containing a checkbook and credit card, stolen. “She left the purse in her cart in the frozen foods aisle while looking in a freezer there,” the Web site reports.

Just two days later, another purse snatching occurred at another supermarket on the same road. On the evening of, Oct. 30, “a $100 purse containing five credit cards was reported stolen from a shopper’s cart in Wegmans at 2200 E. Ridge Road,” The Irondequoit Post reports.

Keeping an eye on your cart, and a threatening-looking loaf of French bread on hand, should help deter these supermarket sinners from further crimes.

Grocery store fraudsters get taken down
Three New Yorkers were charged with using stolen credit card information to make grocery store purchases in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Brooklynites Mohamad Alomari, Kevin Baynes and Sarah C. Theagene were charged with fraudulent use of a credit card, conspiracy and obtaining money under false pretenses, Rhode Island State Police say. Baynes was initially arrested on a charge of fraudulent credit card use following an alleged incident at a Stop & Shop grocery store but was released. His fellow fraudsters, meanwhile, allegedly got away before police could catch them. However, a trooper pulled over the trio’s unregistered vehicle for speeding the next day.

“Acting on a tip from store security, police searched the vehicle and found debit and gift cards that were allegedly altered to bill charges to stolen credit card numbers,” the Associated Press reports. “According to the state police, it appeared that the magnetic strips on the backs of the cards had been altered to allow the suspects to make purchases using the name and account number of the card owners. Lt. Col. Stephen O’Donnell of the State said that the suspects appeared to have accomplished this using one of several types of scanning devices that can be purchased without too much difficulty,” reports the Woonsocket Call. O’Donnell explained that the crooks had a machine that would produce magnetic strips, which were then superimposed onto credit cards or gift cards.

Thief leaves ID behind after attempt at stealing smokes
As most smokers will probably tell you, cigarette spending continues even when finances get tight.

On Oct. 10, police finally caught up to and arrested a Chicago man on charges of counterfeiting credit cards and attempted theft after he tried to buy cigarettes with falsified plastic. Police say Larvell Wilkerson visited Old Chicago Tobacco in Harwood Heights, Ill., on April 12, 2007, where he tried to buy eight cartons of Newport cigarettes worth $424 with a TCF Visa card bearing his name. “When the card came back as invalid twice, a clerk asked Wilkerson for an identification card,” reports Norridge and Harwood Heights News. Wilkerson provided the clerk with his Illinois drivers license.

That’s when things got stupid, with the thief remembering one card but leaving the other behind. “Wilkerson eventually left the store with the credit card, but he forgot to retrieve his driver’s license,” Norridge and Harwood Heights News reports.

Police found out that the counterfeit credit card had been used at several Norridge stores in March. The real credit card was in the rightful possession of its owner the entire time Wilkerson was on his haphazard crime spree.

And the “Best Criminal Alibi” award goes to…
Two Wassau, Wis., men allegedly broke into truck stop vending machines to get at the cash inside, but one of them had a story all set for the police when they caught up with him.

Peter T. Vang and Timothy J. Liss were both charged with theft after the duo pried the doors off vending machines during several visits to an Oshkosh, Wis., travel plaza, according to a criminal complaint. “In a surveillance video, Vang appeared to act as a lookout for Liss, who bent over the machines and used an object to pry the machine open in order to take the money,” theNorthwestern.com reports. “The business owner told police $5,159.75 was missing from the machines.”

Police questioned Liss on Nov. 3 and found a large amount of cash, a three-and-a-half inch piece of metal, keys and a four-inch black rubber tool in his pocket — as well as one heckuva storyteller. “Liss told police he and Vang were on their way to Appleton from Oshkosh but stopped due to the fog and were just ‘hanging out’ at the travel plaza,” the Web site reports. “He said he works as a disc jockey and was carrying a large amount of cash because he did not have a credit card.”

Perhaps that skill as a DJ was what enabled Liss to put his own spin on the story.

See related: Criminal Charges: Volume V

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