CARMEL, Ind. - Federal credit card fraud charges have been lodged against four people accused of shopping and dining out in Carmel using stacks of doctored credit cards.
Investigators said all four of the people arrested in this scheme live in Georgia, but stopped in Carmel on their way to Chicago. They are all accused of carrying credit cards that were doctored so that they would drain money from other people’s accounts.
The federal charges filed this week in Indianapolis stem from a traffic stop by Fishers police back in October near 126th Street and State Route 37.
Officers became suspicious when they stopped the rented 2013 Chevy Tahoe, saying the group seemed overly nervous and their stories did not add up.
A police K-9 was then called, sniffing the center of the console where officers found small amounts of marijuana.
Police then realized that center console contained something far more valuable. Officers said they found 137 credit cards and identification cards displaying names of other people.
Police arrested Matthew Allen Brooks, Tommie Riddle, John Lane, and Tahj M. Parks on forgery charges, but Hamilton County prosecutors told the Call 6 Investigators those charges were dropped when the federal indictment was returned this week .
All four are now charged with felony access device fraud, a legal term used for credit and debit cards.
Investigators said they found receipts from Marsh and Meijer stores in Carmel, Fishers and other locations, and surveillance video showed the group using some of those credit cards to make purchases in the self-checkout lanes.
One card was also used for a dinner at a local restaurant, police said.
Police said Matthew Brooks, 34, told them the stacks of credit cards came from a middle-man.
“He said that the person who does that is unseen, the main person, doesn’t show their face. He said that he wasn’t the head person,” Fishers police wrote in a probable cause affidavit.
Police wrote in their report that Brooks admitted that he only started “doing this” because he is unable to find a job due to his status as a registered sex offender.
The Georgia Sex Offender Registry lists Brooks as having been convicted of molesting a child in June 1999.
A photo identification card listing another person’s name, which matched the name on many of the credit cards, displayed a picture of Brooks, police said.
When asked to explain why his photo would be on a driver’s license with another person’s name, he asked for a lawyer and police stopped asking him questions.
Investigators said each of the credit cards contained incorrect customer service phone numbers for the issuing financial institution. When investigators called each bank, they were told the cards were fake and no customer existed with the name listed on those cards.
In federal court papers, prosecutors indicated that each card had been linked to stolen credit card numbers using a re-encoding device that programs different account information into the magnetic stripe on a card.
Some of the doctored cards, investigators said, were stuffed in Parks’ purse and being carried on the other suspects, but police did not have a full accounting of exactly where the cards had been used for purchases.
Parks told police she figured the credit cards being used by Brooks were likely stolen, but she felt it was “none of her business.”
Police also found a checkbook with another person’s name in her purse. She told officers it belonged to her aunt, but when asked her aunt’s name, police said she was unable to provide the proper name of the checkbook owner.
When police searched the rental vehicle, they said the 137 doctored credit cards were sealed in two zip-lock bags. Inside one of those bags was a sheet of paper used to track the various amounts available on each of the stolen credit card numbers, police said.
In the center armrest, police said another zip lock bag contained 23 master gift cards.
Typically, fraud investigators say stolen credit card numbers are re-programmed into the magnetic stripes of legitimate gift cards, known as masters, since gift cards are easy to obtain and they function in the same manner as regular credit cards.
Federal court records in Indianapolis show that all four of the suspects have been released from jail in Hamilton County and were served with notices to appear before a federal judge in the coming weeks.
Investigators said Brooks was carrying a wallet that contained that bogus identification card and 11 different fraudulent credit cards in someone else’s name.
Riddle is accused of carrying two wallets that contained 14 different fraudulent credit cards.
Parks is accused of having 7 gift cards in her purse, along with 6 receipts showing purchases at groceries and other stores between Indianapolis and Georgia.
The credit card issuers listed on some of the re-programmed cards, according to investigators, included Navy Federal Credit Union, Pier 1 Imports, HSBC and US Bank.
Fraud investigators from each of those banks said the account numbers
had been compromised from various card holders. They told police that the three-digit security code was listed as the same on each card, depending on the issuer. Each bank said that number would have actually been different on each card if they were authentic.