Police suspect 2 Balto. Co. arrests tied to $400,000 credit card fraud ring

April 21, 1995|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Sun Staff Writer

A federal task force arrested two men in Baltimore County yesterday in what was believed to be a major credit card fraud ring responsible for $400,000 in thefts over the past two years.

The arrests came after a surveillance team riding in the Garrison area saw a man in a car remove items from a mailbox on Caveswood Lane, and stopped the vehicle on nearby Garrison Forest Road. Agents confiscated stolen mail and arrested the car's two occupants -- both Nigerian nationals.

According to the U.S. Secret Service and Postal Inspection Service, the ring steals credit card bills, credit card applications and other financial information from mailboxes, using them to obtain credit cards.

Paul J. Trimbur, a postal inspector, said the task force was formed nearly two years ago because of complaints from the victims -- people whose mail had been stolen or who had received bills from credit card companies for transactions on cards they never received.

Mr. Trimbur said the ring targeted houses with curbside mailboxes. Victims were scattered around the county, though the ring concentrated in the Pikesville-Owings Mills area. The victims included a county police officer, Lt. Barry Barber, who with his wife found $7,000 in fraudulent transactions on their credit card bills.

Lieutenant Barber said he discovered the thefts more than a year ago when his wife was notified by her credit card company about charges in the Washington area that seemed out of character with her pattern of transactions. A check with the lieutenant's credit card company found similar charges.

"We believe that the thieves took information from our mailbox, then requested a duplicate credit card," the lieutenant said. "They then intercepted the duplicate card on the day it arrived." He noted that his mailbox is nearly a quarter-mile from his house.

The credit industry is the ultimate victim, to the tune of some $900 million a year, according to the president of a private research company that studies the business.

Although the type of thefts pursued by the task force is rare, said Robert B. McKinley, president of the Frederick-based RAM research firm, the industry contributes to the problem by mailing preapproved credit card applications that need only a signature.

"They consider it a risk of doing business," Mr. McKinley said.

Arrested yesterday were Adejioye A. Adetubokuw, 20, of the 5000 block of 60th Ave. in Bladensburg, who was held in lieu of $10,000 bail; and Owen Oluyinka Ukpomo, 23, address unknown, held in lieu of $25,000 bail.

Mr. Adetubokuw was arrested several months ago in Washington on charges stemming from the theft of mail, said Stephen W. Mason, special agent in charge of the Baltimore office of the Secret Service -- an agency of the U.S. Treasury Department that provides protection for the executive branch of government, and investigates counterfeiting, bank and credit card fraud.

The task force included a Baltimore County police detective, in addition to the Secret Service and postal agents.

Late last month, the task force and Harford County sheriff's deputies arrested two men in the Forest Hill on mail theft charges. Mr. Mason said those suspects -- both Nigerians -- are believed to belong to the same ring that authorities believe is linked to the Baltimore County arrests.

Mr. McKinley said there are two major kinds of credit card theft -- one involving a petty criminal who may steal one credit card application or credit card, the other a postal employee stealing in connection with organized crime elements a tray of credit cards being shipped through the mail.

The four major credit cards -- VISA, MasterCard, Discover and Optima -- accounted for about $900 million in fraud last year, compared with about $600 billion charged on bank credit cards annually, Mr. McKinley said.

Companies are devising means to thwart fraud, Mr. McKinley said. "It's a challenge for banks just to keep one step ahead of the criminal element."

The Barbers, angered by the thefts from their mail, also took a preventive measure. They now have their mail delivered to a post office box.

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