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Park Hills police say Internet scam spanned the country

Source: Daily Journal Online
Date: December 15, 2003

Cybercrime PARK HILLS -- The Park Hills police station is beginning to look like Santa's warehouse with thousands of dollars of merchandise that would make super holiday gifts scattered around.
Major suppliers of merchandise bilked through an Internet scam will be getting thousands of dollars worth of stolen goods back in the next few weeks, thanks to the efforts of the Park Hills Police Department.

Chief Bill Holloway said Thursday it was through the determined efforts of Detective Lt. Mark Rigel that nearly $50,000 worth of merchandise is being returned to companies all over the country, as well as one company in England.

While Rigel and Detective Mike Kurtz have spent weeks tracking leads, collecting evidence and talking to authorities across the country, Rigel said a private citizen who "did the right thing" is equally responsible for making the case. Though he declined to identify the Park Hills resident, the detective said it was their suspicions and willingness to cooperate that made recovery of the property possible.

It is one of the most complex cases Rigel has ever encountered, involving at least 13 merchandisers and that many or more credit card holders who were also being victimized by the scam.

The downside of the case, Rigel said, is that it appears the man responsible for the scam will escape prosecution. Since none of the criminal acts occurred in Missouri or St. Francois County, local charges cannot be brought. In additional, federal authorities say the method of the scam has made it almost technically impossible to bring federal charges.

"The good side is that the companies are getting back thousands of dollars worth of merchandise and the credit card holders are not going to be paying for the items they did not order," Rigel said.

Rigel said it was an elaborate operation in which a man from Orange County, Calif., was using stolen credit card numbers to order merchandise over the Internet. The man would have the merchandise shipped to different points around the country where he had enlisted the help of innocent people through chat rooms on the Internet.

Those innocent recruits would then repackage the merchandise with materials the man had shipped to them and send the items to an address in Jamaica, N.Y. It turned out, Rigel said, the New York address was that of a commercial repackaging and distribution center that would ship the merchandise to the man in California.

One of those recruits was a Park Hills resident who became suspicious when the packages began to arrive. Feeling there was something at least inappropriate and possibly illegal occurring, the person contacted Rigel, whom they knew through previous unofficial contacts. Rigel stressed that the person at no time was expecting to profit from the assistance they were to provide their Internet friend.

In the process, Rigel has worked with the investigative units of the U.S. Postal Service, the parcel delivery services of UPS and FedEx, several major credit card companies, and other federal and state agencies. He said they have all been very cooperative and have launched investigations of their own into this operation and the man believed responsible for it.

As part of the ongoing investigation, Rigel intercepted shipments that included a very wide variety of top quality merchandise. Huge cartons of that merchandise is scattered through the city's police station being prepared for reshipment to the companies that were victimized.

"There are some high-dollar items in here," Rigel said, pointing to some of the dozens of boxes in his office.

The merchandise included expensive digital cameras, camcorders, portable CD players, stereo equipment, expensive travel clocks, computer components, memory cards, and software, DVD video games, printer ink cartridges, expensive batteries for lap top computers and other electronic gear.

There is also a wide assortment of name-brand clothing and shoes from such top line stores as Eddie Bauer, Old Navy, The Gap, and Nordstrum. In addition, there is some jewelry and clothing from a very prominent company in London, England.

Rigel said there was a second person who resides in Park Hills who also was sent one of the packages, but that person refused to accept it.

"Apparently, this man recruited helpers all over the country," Rigel said. "Talking to an investigator in Chicago, I was told there were several delivery points in Missouri, Illinois and Kansas."

Rigel warned that anyone who might have been recruited to help, even though they were doing it as a favor, should be aware they become part of the scam and could be criminally liable. The person who cooperated here did the right thing. They had been told by the man he was trying to get around an embargo on shipping the merchandise to Nigeria when, in fact, it was all going to him.

It is quite likely, Rigel said, the merchandise he intercepted is just a small part of what was obtained through the scam. There are probably hundreds of more items that have been delivered to the person who initiated the illegal operation.

"Another positive aspect, at least, is that now not only do I know who he is," Rigel said, "so do the federal authorities, the New York police and authorities in California. The credit card companies and the shipping companies also know him, so it might be harder for him to operate."

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