Come for the filet mignon, stay for the credit-card fraud.
New York City law enforcement authorities and the U.S. Secret Service announced Friday that they had taken down a major credit-card fraud ring, one that employed waiters at some of the New York area's toniest steakhouses to capture the American Express card numbers of at least 50 well-heeled diners.
"The suspects in this credit-card fraud case thought that they flew low on law enforcement's radar, but NYPD detectives working with the U.S. Secret Service and Manhattan District Attorney's office were able to trace the crew of steakhouse waiters who skimmed victims' information to the buyers who ordered high-end luxury items for complicit clients," said New York City Police Commissioner Raymond M. Kelly in a press release. "These criminals were careful, but as it turned out, not nearly careful enough."
The restaurants involved were the creamed spinach de la creme of the area's steakhouses. The Capital Grille, JoJo, Smith & Wollensky and Wolfgang Steak in Manhattan were on the list, and so were the Bicycle Club just across the Hudson River in Englewood, N.J., and the Morton's branch in upscale Stamford, Conn.
Patrons of such upscale joints were more likely to have charge cards with high spending limits, such as an American Express black card, and the scammers accordingly spent big on high-end luxury shoes and handbags, according to WNBC-TV.
The entire enterprise was directed by Luis Damian Jacas, 41, of New York, according to the authorities, but 27 other individuals were indicted on charges including enterprise corruption, conspiracy and grand larceny.
The steakhouse employees allegedly worked for Jacas as "skimmers," recording patrons' credit-card numbers and passing them on to Jacas. The cards would be "cloned" onto blank cards, which were then given to "shoppers," who fanned out to high-end shops across the Northeast and Florida buying up luxury items.
Those goods were then allegedly sold to "complicit customers" who knew how the items were purchased, and who frequently acted as "fences," selling the goods at markdowns to unsuspecting end customers.
Such sophisticated scams aren't exactly rare, and they're often well done.
Just last month, the Queens County District Attorney's office announced the break-up of a huge credit-card fraud organization based in that New York City borough, involving five different interconnected gangs representing several of the city's ethnic and immigrant groups. Taped conversations had to be translated from Arabic, Mandarin Chinese and Russian.