BY ALICIA CRUZ
The FBI has arrested seven men, and charged a New Jersey inmate, Dimorio McDowell, 33, of Trenton, N.J. with conspiracy to commit wire fraud in a credit card scheme that targeted major retail chain stores across Ohio.
The ringleader, McDowell, according to the FBI, ran the operation by telephone from the confines of the Federal Correctional Facility at Fort Dix, N.J.
McDowell targeted credit cards issued by major chain stores such as Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue, Staples, Home Depot, Lowes and others. The cards, back by financial institutions like Citigroup Financial, HSBC and GE Capital, lost between $500,000 to $1 million. The scheming crooks charged high-end items such as a John Deere tractor, big-screen televisions, snow blowers and stoves.
The FBI said the men were running their own personal shopping network replete with shopping lists supplied by prearranged buyers who acted as if the thieves were their personal shoppers.
The big-ticket swindlers were able to pull the scam off by obtaining the personal information of a credit card holder, ironically, through the credit card customer service departments.
They would then use the information to add themselves as authorized users on the cardholder's credit card or change information about the cardholder.
When the crooks went to make purchases, they showed ID or gave the last four digits of the cardholder's Social security number and were able to make purchases on the account.
The theft ring operated in Ohio communities with strong retail store presence such as Strongsville, Beachwood and Richmond Heights.
The scheme began to unravel when investigators learned the New Jersey inmate, McDowell, who was scheduled to be released in 2014, had an unauthorized cell phone.
They placed electronic surveillance on the cell phone, which led them to the men in Cleveland. Police then watched their shopping trips, which led police to the home raided on Thursday.
The home was used to store the stolen goods and was equipped with a surveillance system monitored by two men with loaded weapons. Investigators believe the Fort Dix inmate (McDowell) met the Cleveland suspects while serving time in an Ohio prison.
The FBI has charged eight men, all of Cleveland, Ohio, in connection with the scam, but only seven have been arrested as of Wednesday evening and Thursday morning; the eighth suspect remains at large.