“Tyrell Jenkins” rolled into town in a car with New York plates. He strolled into Pete Persano’s AT&T Wireless Store on Chapel and asked for two 64 GB IPads worth over $300 each. He pulled out a First United credit card—and Persano smelled a scam.
It happened last Friday.
Persano (pictured) has started receiving these visits on a regular basis—almost always, for some unknown reason, on Fridays.
Jenkins’ Pennsylvania driver’s license matched the name on his First United card. But when Persano checked online to see how the transaction had scanned on his terminal, he learned his scam sensor had smelled correctly: The number on Jenkins’ card was real, but it was not associated with First United. It belonged to a Bank of America account.
Persano called the police to alert them that one of the fraudsters they had been watching was currently in the store.
He then tried to stall “Jenkins”—it is unclear if this is his real name—by “accidentally” getting a 16 GB model instead of the requested 64GB model. Then Persano brought a white tablet instead of a black one.
After 30 minutes the customer’s own hunch kicked in: He realized the owner was on to him. He left the store before police arrived.
Persano has become somewhat of an expert on credit card scams. For the past three months, his small business, located across from the Green between Temple and College streets, has suffered near-weekly attempts at credit fraud. So far, the culprits have gotten away each time.
Jenkins’ attack was just the latest in this series of attempted scams at the store, according to Persano. All of them follow the same pattern: The fraudsters arrive in a car with New York plates, usually on Friday afternoons. They ask for the most expensive item in the store. They present a realistic credit card and matching out-of-state ID. When the storeowner swipes the card, the charge goes through—but the bill arrives in someone else’s mailbox.
“I’ve been taking them away one a week,” Persano said in an interview in his office as he flipped through dozens of Xeroxed credit and ID cards. “If they are doing it to us, they are probably doing it to other small businesses in the area. We want to catch one in the act, so that the others realize they have to stop.”
Other nearby small electronics retailers interviewed did not report similar problems. Cristopher Cournoo, who manages the T-Mobile store near the corner of Crown and Chapel streets, said that most of the transactions he oversees happen in cash or through debit cards, which makes his store less vulnerable to this kind of attacks.
Yet it is clear that suspicion hangs in the air. An employee at a nearby Sprint store refused to comment when this reporter was unable to produce a press ID.
“Who knows?” said the employee, who did not give his name. “For all I know, you are the one doing fraud.”
Fraudsters can easily make a fake card by obtaining a real credit number from the Internet, then pressing it into plastic with a specialized printer. In the video at left, Detective Bob Watts of the Newport Beach police department demonstrates how they do it.
The practice of duplicating a legitimate credit card with fraudulent intentions is known as “cloning.”
It is so widespread that instructional videos on how to do it can be found in YouTube (like the one at left).
According to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, credit card cloning and other forms of identity teft have become increasingly more prevalent in the past decade. Unlike Arizona and California, Connecticut is not among the states with the highest rate of credit card fraud. At least unless Persano’s insidious visitors find a way to change that.