Updated:ORANGE COUNTY, Fla.,None - A credit card fraud conspiracy led U.S. Secret Service agents to Central Florida. Investigators said the crime was hard to detect.
The suspects would take gift cards and encode them with information stolen from American Express and MasterCard holders to spend at stores. The Secret Service told WFTV Tuesday it could have cost the suspects as little as $10 per card number.
Five of the six suspects are in custody. Agents arrested 33-year-old Gary Washington, 30-year-old Chad Warner, 22-year-old Jenna Larson, 23-year-old Stacie Glapion, and 20-year-old Ceaundra Thomas.
Olivia Embry, 25, is a suspect but has not been arrested.
As far as federal agents can tell, none of the suspects are gainfully employed. But between May of 2010 and last month, the suspects, who are Orlando residents, are accused of charging close to $187,000 on American Express cards, and they didn't even need the owner's cards to do it.
"They would purchase a debit card or credit card encoder and then simply encode cards," said Asst. Special Agent Jim Glendinning of the Secret Service.
The Secret Service believes the information they used to encode those cards was skimmed from credit cards at a San Diego hotel.
After that, the stolen credit card information was sold, likely on a black market internet site.
"Unfortunately, it is very easy through various criminal web-based forums, but you have vetted to make sure you belong there and you're not an undercover police officer," Glendinning said.
At an east Orange County Winn-Dixie one of the suspects made a payment rather than a purchase. It was a Western Union transfer to an address overseas.
Agents believe that was for additional credit card information. There's also evidence the suspects used a website to buy the equipment they needed to make phony debit and credit cards.
Investigators said the group then used them at an Orlando IKEA as well as Target stores in Orange, Lake and Brevard counties.
"Apparently, they were familiar with Target. They were comfortable and they were successful," said Glendinning.
The Secret Service is still trying to add up how much the groups charged to MasterCard. Agents believe it's far in excess of the $187,000 charged to American Express.
The suspects face felony charges for conspiracy, access device fraud and wire fraud.