Spate of credit card fraud cases in V.I. gets FBI attention


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ST. THOMAS - The FBI is investigating the ongoing rash of credit and debit card fraud that has hit residents of the territory, as well as the people visiting it.

In the last month, a growing number of people have discovered fraudulent charges made to one or more of their credit and debit cards.

Many of the victims said they noticed that the charges followed a visit to Red Hook on St. Thomas, though anomalies reports of similar activity have been made now on St. John and St. Croix.

"We have received complaints about it regarding what's going on with the credit cards," said Moises Quiñones, FBI spokesman based in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Quiñones could not quantify how many complaints the federal agency has received, nor whether the complaints yet indicate any patterns in the incidents.

"Credit card fraud cases can be committed in various ways, but I don't want to speculate," he said.

Scanners that read card information are one way, and breaching credit card processing company systems are another, according to Quiñones.

Local businesses, most of which did not want to publicly be identified, have been insisting that the crimes are not being committed by their staffs, which they said also are getting hit by the scam.

Many of the victims are reporting the cases after having made charges in the Red Hook area, though other cases have popped up across the territory.

Ed Thompson, a boat captain who is visiting St. Thomas for seasonal fishing has had three cards compromised, and he said he knows of other boat captains who have had the same happen.

Thompson said his cards were charged in amounts of $59, $580, and $2,500 and the expenditures on his cards were made in Florida and Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, though his friends' and associates' cards have been charged everywhere from London, England, to Biloxi, Miss.

For many of the captains, who have a card specifically used for sizeable charges related to their job, such as purchasing fuel for the vessel, they cannot afford such costs on their own cards, Thompson said.

"We have cash on board, but not a lot," said Thompson. "People are just sitting on their credit cards."

FBI investigators will continue to gather interviews and information in the coming weeks, Quiñones said, before the agency makes any conclusions about the nature of the crimes.

Quiñones said that the U.S. Attorney's Office will be the office to determine what the person or persons would be charged with should anyone be arrested in connection with the series of breaches.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Chisolm could not be reached Thursday to comment.

Assistant V.I. Police Commissioner Thomas Hannah said, depending on their nature, the crimes also could be prosecuted in the territorial court. The V.I. Police Department currently is trying to find victims, he said.

"We've reached out to a number of people that have posted their experiences on social media," Hannah said. "We need to know those locations that they were at, when they were here, or if they live here." Once enough information has been gathered, Hannah said the police department will present the information to the V.I. Attorney General's Office or to the U.S. Attorney's Office, depending on which office ultimately would prosecute the case.

Until the fraud is curtailed, Hannah said residents should use their credit cards carefully.

"If you have the $5 or $10 in cash, use it. Use cash as much as possible," Hannah said.

Still, no one seems to know how the hackers are nabbing the numbers.

As of a week ago, police had received only one report of credit card fraud on St. Thomas, according to V.I. Police spokeswoman Melody Rames.

However, in the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency's police blotter - a listing of calls made to 911 - the agency has recorded an increase in fraud, particularly in fraud relating to credit card fraud.

To report credit card fraud, call the V.I. Police Department at 774-2211 on St. Thomas-St. John or 778-2211 on St. Croix.

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

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