Honolulu police are trying to crackdown on mainland gangs who are sending people to Hawaii to make high-end purchases with counterfeit credit cards, putting them up in expensive hotels while they charge expensive merchandise to unsuspecting credit customers across the country, sources said.
Police arrested Bo Fu, 25, from Pomona, Calif., July 20 at Nordstrom Ala Moana, and charged him with four felony counts including ID theft and theft.Fu is accused of using a counterfeit credit card to purchase a handbag worth about $500 from the Bulgari store at Ala Moana a few days before.He's suspected of being a member of a gang from Southern California.
Law enforcement sources said on any given weekend, people from gangs around the country are in Honolulu making similar fraudulent, high-end purchases.
"It is increasing more and more and I think that's something that the public should know about, because it also poses a safety hazard to the public, to employees of the store," said Sheri Sakamoto, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii, representing 3,500 storefronts across the state.
The crooks' targets on Oahu are often the fanciest of retailers along Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki and at Ala Moana Center: from Coach, Chanel and Louis Vuitton to Nieman Marcus and Nordstrom, sources said.
"They're asked to steal high-end goods, for example, like beautiful handbags or statues or something like that, with stolen credit cards, they stay at the most expensive hotels or resorts," Sakamoto said.
Sources said law enforcement in Honolulu has tracked many of the fraudulent credit card purchases at fancy stores here back to organized retail theft gangs who bought legit credit card numbers from Russians obtained through various data breaches in this country.
The credit crooks get paid a fee for their services, some are paid a commission, and others are allowed to use the fraudulent credit cards to purchase additional items to keep or sell on their own, Sakamoto said.
"If a $5,000 bag is stolen, and they sell it for $500, they're making out $500. So any theft is bad," Sakamoto said.
One problem is that lots of stores here don't pursue criminal charges because they don't want bad publicity, and the credit card companies cover the losses, so the stores don’t have a financial incentive to report the crimes, sources said.
People whose credit card numbers have been stolen often don’t find out about the purchases until their next bill comes with expensive purchases they don’t know anything about.
But individuals can refuse to pay those charges if they didn’t make the purchases, meaning the credit card companies or the banks that issue the cards eat those losses.
The crooks make counterfeit cards by using their own names and drivers licenses to set up the cards that use the stolen numbers from someone else. That way, if they’re asked for ID, their photo and name match their government-issued IDs and they can make the fraudulent purchase.
That allows investigators to track the people who make these illegal purchases, putting their names on the charges together with surveillance video to bring criminal cases against them when the retailers want to pursue charges.