A Quebec foursome with has been arrested in Winnipeg over an alleged fly-by-night credit-card fraud operation targeting local businesses.

Four 22-year-old men from Montreal face several criminal charges, including identity theft and participating in organized crime, after they allegedly arrived in the city with the goal of stealing private credit and debit card data from Winnipeggers — something a Manitoba judge has described as “fraud tourism.”

Three of the men — Michael Guy Vincent, Ahsan Muhammad Noor Khan and Fabrizio Imola — were released on bail last week. A fourth, Miles Lafleur-Diallo, remains in custody despite offering a $35,000 cash bail.

Lafleur-Diallo and the others are accused of travelling to Manitoba equipped with credit-card skimming equipment, including a fake pin-pad terminal, a false-bottomed backpack and several cellphones. They’re accused of installing card-skimming devices at 10 Winnipeg businesses in a week, prior to their arrest on Feb. 22.

The alleged scheme involves showing up to a business near closing time and replacing the card-payment pin-pad terminal with a dummy version while staff aren’t looking. The real pin pad is then modified overnight to capture credit card data and personal identification numbers, and reinstalled when the business re-opens the next morning. Fraudsters can then connect wirelessly to the doctored pin pad and use the stolen data to forge new credit cards.

In this case, Crown attorney Mandy Ambrose alleged some of the men distracted employees while another placed a backpack over the card-payment terminal to make the switch. The Crown told court the men’s activity was captured on video surveillance.

“Criminals involved in these skimming scams, as it relates to Winnipeg in particular, generally travel here from another location, which obviously minimizes the risks of them being identified later,” Ambrose told court.

Often, Veldman said, the stolen credit- or debit-card data will be used in countries such as the United States, which doesn’t require widespread use of chip cards for credit transactions.

“Their end game is they want to convert that payment-card data, whether it’s debit or credit, into cash,” he said.

He said the perpetrators will typically try to make cash withdrawals or use credit cards for online purchases. But the fraudulent transactions usually won’t show up on consumers’ credit-card statements until months later.

“They’re not going to skim it this week and then use it next week. People find out months later that criminals have held on to this harvested data and then they wait for an opportune time,” Veldman said. “When they actually go in and cash out, so to speak, they do it all at once. They try to do as much as they can because they know as soon as the payment-card organizations find out, then they begin shutting down all of the cards from the compromised site.”

“We ask that merchants be diligent in checking their point of sale terminals with the protocols that manufacturers have given them, checking them on a regular basis to make sure that they haven’t been compromised,” Veldman said.

Veldman said Winnipeg police investigate several card-skimming cases each year. Counterfeit debit and credit-cards (used within Canada and internationally) accounted for more than $127 million in losses in 2015, according to the Canadian Bankers Association.

As he denied bail to Lafleur-Diallo last week, provincial court Judge Kael McKenzie referred to the accusations against the men as “fraud tourism.””These types of offences, and again, you’re presumed innocent, but they cost individuals extreme amounts of money and they’re very difficult to detect because of the prolonged nature between when people make the transactions and when they actually realize that they’ve been duped,” the judge said.

Source: Winnipeg Free Press 



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December 20, 2017

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