Three arrested for alleged fraud

BROOKINGS – Three men were arrested after two businesses reported the men were suspected of buying thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise with stolen credit card numbers, according to Brookings Police.

The suspicious activity was reported at 11:23 a.m. Wednesday, when police were dispatched to a business in the 700 block of 22nd Avenue South, Lt. Marci Gebers said.

Arrested were Montez Cochran, 27; JB First II, 28; and LaMell Parker, 22, all from Battle Creek, Michigan.

Gebers said all three were arrested on suspicion of: ownership or possession of scanning device or re-encoder with intent to obtain or alter payment card information without permission; possession of a controlled drug or substance; and possession or use of drug paraphernalia.

Parker is facing an additional charge of possession of a fictious license.

“They were cooperative” during the arrest, Gebers said.

All three were transported to the Brookings County Detention Center.

Additional charges are pending, Gebers said.

“(The initial report was for) three or four males who came into a business there in the 700 block of 22nd Avenue South. They made a large purchase of over $2,000, and that included top-shelf liquor and scratch tickets, lottery tickets,” Gebers said.

“The business became suspicious after they made … multiple trips into the business and they wanted to purchase all of the scratch lottery tickets, which, obviously, is not common,” Gebers said.

“They alerted law enforcement to the suspicious activity, believing that the individuals may have been using a stolen credit card number. These three gentlemen were located in the area,” Gebers said.

“We actually had a second business report to law enforcement that one of the individuals had come into their business and purchased a gift card for several hundred dollars and then they wanted to purchase another gift card for several hundred dollars,” Gebers said. “That’s when they became suspicious and declined those purchases and alerted law enforcement who was in the area there.”

After the suspects were located and detained as the investigation continued, “their vehicle, which was a rental, was located in the parking lot and there was marijuana that was visible in the vehicle. Our K-9 was utilized and made a positive indication on the vehicle, and there was a probable cause search of the vehicle, as a result of that,” Gebers said.

“What the officers were able to observe from outside of the vehicle, along with the K-9 indication, and through the course of the investigation, officers were able to locate the drugs, the drug paraphernalia, and then also two scanning devices, often known as skimmers,” Gebers said, adding THC edibles were found.

“Through the course of the investigation, we’ve been able to determine that they were in possession of a stolen credit card number, and we suspect that there are going to be more that we learn of through the investigation. The investigation’s ongoing at this point,” Gebers said.

“There are charges pending for identity theft,” Gebers said, since “they were in possession of several different cards.”

Brookings Police were assisted by the Brookings County Sheriff’s Office and the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, she said.

“We are working together with federal authorities on this case,” she added.

Gebers had some advice for businesses.

“What they were doing was they were reading the card number off of their phone, so I would caution businesses from accepting payment that way,” Gebers said.

“If an individual tells them that they don’t have a credit card and they want to just pay with a card number, it would be good for the businesses to take proper steps to identify that this individual is who they say they are, and able to show proof that that credit card number belongs to them,” Gebers said.

“Oftentimes what we’ll see in situations like this … they’ll take those stolen credit card numbers and then they will have separate equipment to write the credit card number onto any kind of a card that has a magnetic strip (including gift cards)” Gebers said.