Westerville police last week arrested six Columbus residents for stealing the credit card numbers from customers of local businesses.
Working with the U.S. Secret Service, Westerville police on April 25 executed two search warrants and arrested Kwabena M. Bonsu, 25; Jacques GK Daboni, 22; Prince Dahome, 20; Ayeshia A. Johnson, 19; Jaimee M. Mukama, 26; and Seth Nyanekye, 30, April 25.
Bonsu, Mukama, Dahome and Nyanekye listed themselves as residents of 1870 Hampstead Drive in the Northland area of Columbus, where they were arrested. The home is registered to Nyanekye. Daboni and Johnson listed themselves as residents of 1544 Kemper Ave. in near northeast Columbus, where they were arrested.
According to police, the six recruited employees at Westerville businesses to "skim" customers' credit card numbers.
"When you hand off your credit card, very few people are even looking at the person," said Westerville police Lt. Paul Scowden. "These people watch for that, and when they do that, it takes less than a second to skim that card. They just run it through that little machine, then they run it through their machine to make you pay for your food and then hand you your card back."
The employees would hand the skimming devices containing stolen credit card numbers to the six, who allegedly encoded the numbers onto magnetic strips of other cards, such as gift cards.
Police believe the gift cards would be used as credit cards to purchase more gift cards, electronics to be resold or everyday items used for daily life by the alleged thieves, Scowden said.
Scowden said police were led to the six after stolen credit card numbers were traced back to a group of local businesses.
"These people just kind of came onto our radar," Scowden said. "We were able to develop an investigation on them. We found out that they were recruiting workers at some fast food restaurants in the area. We started watching that and were able to make some arrests."
While the arrests were executed by Westerville police and the U.S. Secret Service, the investigation involved law enforcement from several central Ohio jurisdictions, including Columbus police, the Delaware County Sheriff's Office, Delaware police, Powell police and Franklin and Delaware county SWAT teams.
This type of credit card theft has been growing recently, said Westerville Police Chief Joe Morbitzer, and police have been working hard to crack down on it.
"What we're seeing is a trend because of how easy it is to obtain credit and debit cards. You just need a skimmer, an encoder and the software," Morbitzer said. "This affects everybody. Those fraudulent charges are passed on to consumers."
Police have been working with local retailers to educate them on how to spot people stealing or using stolen credit card numbers, connecting with other law enforcement agencies to identify rings of credit card thieves and equipping police with card scanners so they can easily identify gift cards or credit cards loaded with stolen numbers, Morbitzer said.
"This is labor intensive from an investigative standpoint, but in the long run, it does protect the citizen," Morbitzer said. "We are trying to get the word out in the criminal community that this won't be tolerated in the Central Ohio community. We will find you and we will arrest you."
To protect themselves, police advise people to watch as their credit cards are scanned at stores and restaurants and to use cash if they are at a business, such as a sit-down restaurant, where their credit cards leave their sight during payment.
"If you know that credit card's leaving your hand, there's that propensity that it could be skimmed in seconds," Scowden said. "We're just suggesting people to pay cash if at all possible. If you're going to use a card, use a credit card, not a debit card."