Protecting yourself

‘Credit card mules’ pay off their debts with luxury shopping

Jay MacDonald

Short of residing in the big house or a padded room, you probably qualify for some form of wallet-borne borrowing — and heck, maybe even at those addresses, too. Miss a monthly payment? You pay a little more next month, no big. Miss several? Maybe your credit score suffers, you’ll survive.

But even in the worst-case scenario, you can rest assured that your card issuer will never force you to become a “card mule” to pay off your debt.

What’s a card mule? I wondered the same thing as I scanned a news item out of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where local loan sharks apparently have devised a way for deadbeats to repay their debt without endangering their kneecaps.

According to China Press, unfortunates who fall behind on their payments to the Ah Long (that’s Malaysian for Vinnie & Associates) are given the option to take a stack of cloned credit cards abroad and shop for expensive items with which to pay off their debts and thus bypass orthopedic surgery.

Authorities at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport, the “Airport of Smiles,” uncovered this unwelcome twist on “pay by card” last month when they arrested five Malaysians set to board a flight home from Thailand.

The suspected card mules, all between the ages of 20 and 30, were nabbed with 50 bogus cards issued by overseas banks and $124,000 worth of designer watches, clothing, bags and booze they’d purchased to repay the Ah Long.

According to the cops, the loan sharks went the extra mile to disguise their mystery shoppers by putting them up in a 5-star hotel and equipping them with business-class airline tickets with which to impress the airport sales clerks who require them at checkout. The deadbeats delayed their shopping spree until just before departure in hopes of making a quick getaway.

All five were charged with fraud and one with punching a police officer during the arrest.

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