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Four people arrested in Philly in complex identity theft fraud

I was intrigued to read in the Intelligencer newspaper (opens in new tab) today that four people in Philadelphia's Doylestown Township have been arrested in connection with the theft of the ID of an 89-year-old woman.

Police have arrested three girls and a guy (opens in new tab), but say that they are still looking for a fourth woman in connection with the fraud.

What's interesting about the fraud - from a card security perspective - is that one of the defendants, David Merrill, is reported to have worked at the health centre where the 89-year-old lady lives, and is alleged to have stolen credit cards, drivers licences and a social security card.

The cards were used to pay off various mobile phone bills, which is a bit stupid, as police were able to trace the transaction back to the gang through the phone owner.

The gang showed some intelligence, however, as they ended up applying for a Discover credit card (opens in new tab) in the 89-year-old lady's name using her other card details, social security number and date of birth on the applications.

The resultant credit card was then used to buy various pre-paid gift cards, which were then used to buy around $900 worth of goods.

Pre-paid gift cards (opens in new tab) are unusual in the US in that most retailers don't ask for ID in connection with the cards, as there is usually no name on the pre-paid Visa or MasterCard cards.

Most retail outlets in the US now ask for photo ID when paying by a standard credit or debit card, which is a method by which they've countered a lot of fraud.

I wonder how long it will be before the practice spreads to the UK? -Ed.

Anyway, I digress. The case is unusual in that all of the information about the modus operandi of the alleged fraudsters is being published in the press. Usually Visa and MasterCard (allegedly -Ed) manage to keep this information out of the media...