Rampant credit card fraud in V.I. most likely cybercrime

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ST. THOMAS - Investigating agencies may be no closer to figuring out who is committing the rash of credit card fraud throughout the territory, but they may have a better idea of how the crimes are being committed.

The V.I. Police and at least one credit card processing company have indicated that the crime seems to be a case of cybercrime at the points of service, or where merchandise or services are purchased.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is taking in information, is not disclosing whether there is an open investigation at this point, according to regional spokesman Moises Quinones.

However, even as the number of victims in the territory continues to grow, the FBI is providing scant information that would enable residents to protect their credit cards and avoid possibly becoming victims of identity theft.

At least one point-of-service vendor - ePaymentAmerica - is warning its business clients about the fraud and providing a little information about the scam.

"The United States Secret Service and other government agencies responsible for monitoring cyber-related fraud, believe that the recent reports of credit card issues on the Virgin Islands derive from software attacks on Point-Of-Service ("POS") units and their associated computer systems," read a letter from ePaymentAmerica to locally based Caribbean Surf Company.

The company's owner, Jose Belcher, said that the company sent the letter to him without any prior communication from him relating to the recent string of credit card fraud incidents reported initially on St. Thomas and that have since spread to St. John and St. Croix.

Belcher said that the company explained the scam likely is being perpetrated via the Internet connection over which the transaction processing is being completed.

In his own stores, Belcher said his processing is done across a telephone line, and he feels more assured - based on the statement of his credit card processor - that business conducted in his own shops will not be susceptible to these crimes.

Still, Belcher has been personally victimized by the scam and is one of dozens, and possibly hundreds, of people living in or visiting the territory whose credit cards have been hacked.

"The only reason I was really looking was because I'd heard from other people," Belcher said, adding that his card was charged at a Macy's in New York.

The V.I. Police Department and the FBI both are continuing to take reports from the public and from tourists or visitors who have been affected.

"To date, we have no people that have been identified," said Thomas Hannah, assistant police commissioner.

The charges are all over the world, which is making the agencies' ability to track the crimes difficult. At this point, the victims are all over the place as well.

Jillian Curreri, of St. Thomas, said that she and several friends and family members have been hit by the credit card scam, and she said people who have visited her have been at a loss about how to file a police report because they are not local.

"People don't always think of credit card fraud as robbery, but it is," Curreri said.

The police continue to ask victims to file reports at one of the stations, Hannah said. The reports cannot be filed elsewhere because the victims call when the crime is not in progress, but after it has happened, he said.

Victims who are not residents of the territory can file a report at their local police stations and have the report faxed to the V.I. Police Department, according to Hannah.

Curreri, who said she and many of her friends and family have dealt solely with their respective banks, said that one of her friends was able to track the false charge to a store in New York, which the victim then called.

Someone at the store then was able to send her a picture of a woman who supposedly used Curreri's friend's card information.

"My friend has a color, clear picture of her," Curreri said.

It is unclear how many victims exist at this point, as most people - like Curreri - seem to be dealing exclusively with their banks, rather than authorities, which makes quantifying the hits difficult.

"We were at dinner the other night, and there was not a single person at the table that hadn't had their card compromised," Curreri said.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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