In one of the largest incidents of its kind, a counterfeit credit card ring- apparently operated by a husband-and-wife team-manufactured thousands of bogus Visa cards affixed with the Navy FCU name and logo to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from unsuspecting area consumers and retail merchants.
The scheme is being touted as one of the first in which a credit union, and not its members, had its own identity stolen. "In this case, it was the credit union's own corporate identity, not the members' identity, that was stolen," said Loren Moeller, spokesperson for the nation's largest credit union, noting that most cases of identity theft involve the use of customer/member information and accounts.
The couple, Francis Fletcher, Jr., 35, and his wife, Michele Fletcher, 30, were arrested and charged with producing as many as 40,000 counterfeit cards, most of them with the Navy FCU logo, to buy and sell merchandise and gift cards. In a search of the suspects home in the Glen Dale suburb of Maryland, Montgomery County Police discovered a variety of sophisticated equipment, like machinery to encode magnetic strips, laptop computers with credit card information on them, software used to create identity cards, a "skimmer" used to capture and store credit card information, and thousands of plastic cards, many with the Navy logo.
Cards Used During Shopping Sprees
The cards that were manufactured were used to buy hundreds of thousands of dollars of electronic equipment from retail chains Circuit City and Target in Maryland and Virginia, and as far away as Florida, police said. They also believe the couple used the cards to purchase gift cards, from $1,000 to $4,000 denominations, which were then sold at a discount.
Authorities said when they searched the couple's home they found three satellite TV dishes sitting on the roof and just about every room equipped with a flat-screen TV, a DVD player, and a variety of other expensive electronic equipment. Police seized five vehicles that were believed to be proceeds of the alleged fraud scheme, as well.
None of the members of Navy Federal were victimized by the scheme, according to Moeller. The cards, though, appeared to be poor knock-offs of the Navy Visa cards, with different BIN numbers identifying the institutions, and off-kilter holograms. "These cards are utterly fake. They look nothing like ours," she said. "We do not issue a plastic card that looks anything like that."
The credit union has fielded several phone calls from concerned members but none who believe their accounts have been compromised, said Moeller, adding that the credit union is working with authorities on the investigation.
Targeted After Incident At Target
The Fletchers were arrested after an incident at a Target store in suburban Maryland when they tried to buy electronic equipment with one of the phony Visa cards, which was declined, police said. They handed the clerk another Visa card which did not scan, but was entered manually, then accepted. The purchase, as well as the car the suspects got into, was photographed on the store's video surveillance cameras. Investigators later matched the suspects with those reported to have victimized other stores.
Both of the Fletchers were charged with theft over $500, conspiracy to commit theft over $500, identity theft, and conspiracy to commit identity theft.