Breaking News in the Industry: January 23, 2019

Fraud credit card ring busted; 7 arrested

Even as the Kmart chain lost stores and customers, the struggling discounter could count on one group of customers at its Delaware Valley stores. But those shoppers were scammers, federal authorities allege. A criminal ring allegedly used stolen identities to obtain credit cards in the names of unsuspecting victims, then sent its members into area Kmarts to make purchases of more than $130,000, federal authorities allege. Two of the group’s members, including a woman charged this month, are accused of making fraudulent purchases worth more than $11,000 at four South Jersey Kmarts.

According to court records, ring members allegedly obtained CitiBank Sears credit accounts with ID information stolen from unsuspecting consumers. Other participants, called runners, had their names added to the fraudulent accounts and were sent on shopping trips to the Sears-owned Kmarts. The runners could make purchases on the phony accounts “without having the actual Sears credit card by providing an identification document, such as a driver’s license, as well as the Social Security number or birth date of the account holder,” says a criminal complaint against one alleged ring member, Dearie Scott of Philadelphia.

Scott was instructed to buy “TVs and stuff” that could be sold by a higher-ranking ring member, according to the complaint. She could also buy something for herself as payment, “as long as it was not more than $300,” the complaint says. Scott allegedly charged more than $82,000 on about 30 credit accounts in a roughly five-month period, it says. At least seven people have been charged in connection with the alleged scam, which took place in 2015 and 2016, according to court filings by the US Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia.   [Source: Courier Post]

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LP associates attacked by knife-wielding suspect

An Alabama man accused of shoplifting and attacking two Belk loss prevention associates Monday afternoon has been apprehended. Trussville Police officers say the knife-wielding suspect attacked loss prevention associates who had tried to stop him from leaving the Trussville Belk store. Authorities received reports of the incident around 2:30 p.m. and later apprehended the man on Interstate 459. It is unknown if the knife attack occurred inside or outside the store. The extent of the LP associate’s  injuries is unknown at this time. Trussville Police will provide an update with additional details.   [Source: ABC3340]

Strike team seeks to take down financial criminals

Douglas County law enforcement agencies in Colorado and the United States Secret Service have teamed up to develop the state’s first financial crime investigative team. The Financial Investigative Regional Strike Team (FIRST) is a multi-jurisdictional unit created to take down large-scale financial crimes, from tracking down organized retail crime to users of counterfeit money. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, the Lone Tree Police Department, the Castle Rock Police Department and the US Secret Service are joining forces on the team.

In the interest of retaining confidentiality for ongoing investigations, two Douglas County sheriff’s deputies requested to remain anonymous for this story. FIRST mostly does surveillance and cover work. “We have malls and we have big-box stores, and the fact there’s a lot of overlap, there was a need to develop a task force that could target and investigate these groups that would need the specialties of someone like myself, as well as these investigations are very time consuming,” said a Douglas County sheriff’s deputy and financial crime detective of 13 years.

The Outlets at Castle Rock and the Park Meadows shopping district in Lone Tree, home to the largest indoor mall in Colorado, are two major retail areas in the county, although the scope is much broader than those two malls. “We’re kind of the baby, if you will, of these task forces,” one deputy said. “We’re a launch pad in Colorado for having a specialty in these type cases.” Specifics about any investigations could not be released as they are ongoing.   [Source: Highlands Ranch Herald]

Pill stealing employee charged with larceny, trafficking opium

A 53-year-old woman is behind bars accused of stealing 500 opioid pills from the Walgreens where she worked. Apex Police in North Carolina identified Melanie Holland Moss as the Walgreens employee accused in the theft. The department said Moss stole around 300 oxycodone pills and 200 hydrocodone pills. The thefts began in September 2018. Moss faces felony charges of larceny by an employee and trafficking opium.  [Source: ABC11 Eyewitness News]

Suspect threatened LP associate with needle

A Connecticut man faces charges after police said he threatened a Best Buy loss prevention associate with a syringe and stole a speaker set from the store. Wilson Echevarria-Mercado, 33, was charged by warrant on Tuesday with first-degree robbery, sixth-degree larceny and second-degree breach of peace.

On September 8, 2018, staff at Best Buy reported that a man, later identified as Echevarria-Mercado, concealed various items in his pants and shirt and became hostile when confronted by LP associates, according to an arrest warrant. Minutes later Echevarria-Mercado grabbed a set of portable speakers and walked past the registers toward the exit without paying, the warrant said.

When confronted, Echevarria-Mercado pulled out a syringe and threatened to stab an employee. He then fled the store with the speaker set, valued at about $150.  Police obtained security video and identified Echevarria-Mercado. Echevarria-Mercado was arraigned in Meriden Superior Court on Tuesday. Bond was set at $500 and he is due back in court on Jan. 24.   [Source: MyRecordJournal]

One of four robbers pleads out; 3 awaiting trial

One of four suspects in a December 19 robbery at the Stevensville Meijer store has reached a plea deal with prosecutors. Assistant Prosecutor Nicholas Deryke said Da Sha Thompson, 28, of Benton Harbor, pleaded guilty to first-degree retail fraud, a 5-year-felony. Berrien County Trial Court Judge Aurthur Cotter accepted her plea and will sentence her February 15. Her brother, Demon Thompson, waived a preliminary hearing and will go on trial May 14 on charges of armed robbery and unarmed robbery. He is 17, and also of Benton Harbor. Lincoln Township Police Chief Gary Soper said a third suspect, a juvenile, has been petitioned into Probate Court, and a police are seeking a warrant for the arrest of a fourth suspect who is 20.

Police were called at about 12:30 a.m. December 19 to the Meijer store at 5019 Red Arrow Highway on a report of an armed robbery. Witnesses told police that five people entered the store, and four of them took numerous electronics items and other merchandise. When confronted by employees, one man in the group waved a gun, which turned out to be a CO2 air pistol with no safety markings, Soper said. Employees told police the man with the gun, alleged to be Demon Thompson, pointed it in the direction of an employee who was standing about 20 feet away.

Soper said one female clerk was knocked to the ground as the suspects fled, but no serious injuries were reported. Police identified four suspects after interviewing witnesses and reviewing store security footage. The fifth person who had entered the store was not involved, Soper said.   [Source: The Herald-Palladium]

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