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June 8, 2004

Tangled Web: Bend police expose global scam

From:, OR - Jun 8, 2004

Culprits use unwitting Americans to ship loot to Africa

By Barney Lerten
Posted: Tuesday, June 8, 2004 10:23 PM
Reference Code: AR-16051

June 8 - They haven't exactly cracked the case, but Bend police said Tuesday they have uncovered a high-tech, global criminal enterprise, originating in Africa, that uses stolen credit card numbers to buy large quantities of stolen goods, then dupes unwitting people across the U.S. into helping them ship the loot, to hide its origin.

Bend police initiated an investigation on May 24 into a report of suspicious shipments being delivered by Federal Express to a Bend residence, said police Lt. Jim Porter. Investigators determined that the shipments were being routed through Bend and various other U.S. cities, with a destination of Accra, Ghana in West Africa, Porter said.

The unidentified suspects have been using the Internet and text telephone relays, designed to assist the deaf and hard of hearing, to order large amounts of various types of property from the victims. The orders then were shipped via Federal Express, and routed through several locations, in an attempt to disguise their origins.

The suspect often contacted the unwitting people in Internet chat rooms, recruiting them to help in the shipments. "The suspects would often provide a story that detailed the lack of ground transportation in their country, or difficulties with the local Customs procedures, that required the assistance of the unwitting individual," Porter said in a news release.

Bend police Det. Brian Kindle recovered $11,000 in property purchased with stolen credit card numbers: stereo equipment from Earth Satellite Electronics of Ringgold, Ga., and pricey perfume from Melanelica Inc. of Idaho Falls, Idaho, Porter said.

The stolen property is being returned to the victims, while the investigation is turned over to police agencies in the victims' jurisdictions, Porter said, adding that likely charges include aggravated theft and fraudulent use of a credit card – if the suspects are located.

Police have documented a rash of similar types of attempted thefts, in which suspects used stolen credit cards to try to order items from Bend-area stores, the lieutenant said.

"We had a similar case two months ago, but didn't pursue it," Porter said. "It was an isolated incident – a generator shipped through a local person, the same thing, over the Internet."

The scammers take advantage of the lag time in credit card billing, the lieutenant explained. "They'll get Visa card numbers, and at the start of the month order a whole bunch of stuff, ship it, then, by the time the bill comes – bang, it's been shipped out of the country."

"Citizens and merchants should use extreme caution when taking orders via the telephone or Internet," Porter said. "Individuals who are contacted by unfamiliar parties and requested that they act as a point of receiving or forwarding of merchandise should decline to do so and contact their local law enforcement."

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