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Criminal Charges: Volume XXII — Fraudsters on holiday

Jeremy Simon

Crime may never sleep, but it apparently does enjoy vacations.

The credit card crime stories assembled for this week’s edition of Criminal Charges show that when fraudsters take a trip, it is often at the expenses of law-abiding cardholders. Proving that point, we have a trio of Malaysians who ran up some major fraudulent charges while vacationing in New Zealand, a Massachusetts travel agency that scammed its customers and a Vermont thief who proved just how cold ski vacations can be.

Malaysian crime trio visits New Zealand
Despite what you might expect, a total of more than $100,000 in charges for jewelry, computers and Louis Vuitton handbags weren’t items on Kanye West’s latest credit card statement. Instead, they were purchases made by a Malaysian crime ring vacationing in New Zealand.

According to The New Zealand Herald, a trio of Malaysian crooks “used cloned credit cards from details ‘skimmed‘ from ATMs — where the magnetic strip of the card is recorded into a portable device then transferred on to blank cards,” the paper reports. “The trio traveled around New Zealand in August and September and were supplied credit cards by another man, known only as Kevin.”

Malaysian national Chee Thiong Teh pled guilty last week to charges he used cloned Visa and Commonwealth Bank of Australia credit cards in New Zealand to make over $40,000 in purchases. For his crimes, Teh received a sentence of 18 months in prison. His fellow fraudsters also failed to escape, with Suliaman Bin Haron and his wife Saerah Binte Men — both tourists, like Teh — also eventually pleading guilty to their own participation in the scam.

The group’s activities included flights between Queenstown and Auckland, where Haron and Men used one card 13 times in two days to buy jewelry, clothing and food valued at $12,500. The married duo were nabbed by police at Christchurch Airport in September.

Teh, meanwhile, eventually got burned by a rug: His fraud was uncovered by the owner of a Newmarket flooring store who “smelt something fishy” when Teh tried to charge $5,000 of the retailer’s costliest carpet, the New Zealand Herald reports. After both the cards Teh provided didn’t work, he came back one week later with a different contact address and phone details to complete the sale.

Teh initially escaped from New Zealand but was caught recently by authorities at Auckland International Airport when he attempted to re-enter the country.

Travel agency accused of conning customers
As any regular reader of this column knows, fraud also frequently hits closer to home. The latest evidence of that comes in the form of a Chelsea, Mass., travel agency that stands accused of accepting travelers’ payments but nevertheless leaving them grounded.

Oasis Travel “allegedly took payments but never booked tickets, and allegedly charged tickets to the credit cards of unsuspecting customers,” the Boston Globe reports. “About 30 people have come forward in the past month claiming they were scammed by Oasis Travel.”

Investigators believe the fly-by-night agency closed up shop between two and three months ago, but not before police say Oasis may have scammed customers out of $35,000 between May and September. In a prior Boston Globe article, the paper highlighted customers who discovered that the travel agency had put other people’s tickets on their credit cards.

Travelers who fell victim to the Oasis mirage may soon get some vindication. “One of the agency’s operators, Claudia Quintanilla, was charged with 18 counts of larceny,” the paper reports, adding that officials with social services group Chelsea Collaborative have indicated they are considering filing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the victims.

According to the earlier article, trouble at the travel agency began after the May 19, 2008, death of Quintanilla’s father, Marco.

Thief steals snowboard, plastic from Vermont ski resort
Vacationers who appreciate colder climates are no less vulnerable to crime. Vermont State Police say that Christopher Coughlin of Cambridge, Vt., allegedly helped himself to both a snowboard and credit card left in two cars at Smugglers’ Notch ski resort, the Associated Press reports.

It’s unclear whether the board played a part in his getaway. However, the AP does report that the thief later used the stolen plastic to make charges at stores in Lamoille County, Vt., and Littleton, N.H.

He then apparently smuggled the items home. “Police say the stolen items were found in Coughlin’s home,” the AP reports. Coughlin was charged with two counts of possession of stolen property, two counts of petit larceny and four counts of fraudulent use of a credit card.

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