ATM spy-thief gets 10 months Camera, bar encoder used in card scheme

victims lost $74,000

July 17, 1998|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

Picture this: You're at the cash machine punching in your PIN number. But unbeknown to you, a thief adept at surveillance is recording every move of your hand with a video camera and high-powered lens.

He later digs your receipt from the trash, using the details to encode your credit information on the bar code of his credit card. That way, when he makes a purchase, it's charged to you.

That's the scheme that Joseph Barcase of Rising Sun used to bilk more than $74,000 from 60 unsuspecting debit-card holders in Maryland before U.S. Secret Service agents caught him. A judge in U.S. District Court in Baltimore sentenced Barcase to 10 months yesterday.

The crime, federal prosecutors say, indicates the lengths that today's "electronic criminals" will go to obtain credit and personal data they can use to steal. Barcase, 49 and unemployed, used an illegal bar-coding device federal agents believe he bought on the black market.

Such "encoders" are used by credit card companies and banks to put coded electronic data on a card's magnetic strip. They are tightly regulated devices because they enable someone to rewrite the data from one card to another.

The encoder that prosecutors say Barcase illegally used has never been recovered, even though federal agents made two searches of his home. He told the Secret Service that he hid it inside his television set, then decided to get rid of it when he realized authorities were closing in, court papers said.

"According to Mr. Barcase, the encoder is still at the bottom of the Conowingo Dam," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Bonnie S. Greenberg. She said authorities have no plans to look for it there.

Prosecutors say Barcase ran the scheme between February 1994 and December 1995, allegedly with the help of a neighbor, Brenda MacKenzie, now awaiting trial in Texas. Barcase pleaded guilty to possession of unauthorized access devices that led to $74,000 in credit losses.

He told U.S. District Judge Andre M. Davis that a dull life was partly to blame for his scheme. Barcase said he watched television at his home day after day.

'It was boredom'

"It was boredom. Pure out-and-out boredom," Barcase said. "I was watching them all, including the talk shows like 'Phil Donahue' and 'Oprah.' "

Barcase outfitted his car with surveillance equipment to obtain credit information from customers using automated teller machines, his plea agreement said. He attached a high-powered camera to the car's antenna and attached the video feed to a videocassette recorder in the car, prosecutors said.

He would typically leave the car parked for the day in front of the ATM at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Aberdeen, federal agents said. He would pick up the car at the end of the day, after cleaning out the ATM's trash bin, which contained numerous receipts.

Aberdeen Credit Union receipts from the ATM contained account numbers at the time. They have since been taken off, federal officials said.

Numbers, receipts matched

By playing the videotape, which contained a time-of-day stamp throughout filming, Barcase was able to determine personal identification numbers and match them to receipts corresponding to the same time. Then he put his encoder to work, putting other credit data on his card, MacKenzie's, and his 18-year-old son's, prosecutors said.

The son, Frederick Barcase, has pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Baltimore and was sentenced to probation last week.

Barcase and MacKenzie were accused of using stolen card numbers to rack up large charges, primarily at gas stations and grocery stores, prosecutors said. MacKenzie is a truck driver and would load up with diesel fuel that the two would later use as fuel oil for their homes, said Secret Service Special Agent Douglas Roloff III.

"They also bought thousands and thousands of canned goods," Roloff said. "Their homes looked like they were ready for nuclear war."

Alert clerk

The scheme began to unravel after an alert clerk at an Elkton hardware store noticed that a card MacKenzie tried to use had a different account number than the one printed on the receipt, federal agents said.

Judge Andre M. Davis sentenced Barcase to five months in a halfway house and five months of home detention, noting his poor health. Barcase's attorney, Richard Bardos, said his client suffers from lung and heart problems.

Davis said the type of crime that Barcase was involved in is becoming more prevalent in the computer age. Credit fraud has serious implications for victims, the judge said.

"These things cause real mental anguish for people," he said. "It can take people months, if not years, to get their credit problems straightened out."

Pub Date: 7/17/98

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