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Alert manager helps nab Columbus duo

An alert manager at the Russells Point Village Pantry, 209 Orchard Island Road, helped Russells Point police officers stop and arrest two African nationals Sunday who were trying to use dozens of fraudulent prepaid credit cards to make purchases.

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 ISAAC WEAH and MAMADOU BA

Isaac Weah, 23, and Mamadou Abda Ba, 25, both of Columbus, are currently incarcerated in the Logan County Jail and face multiple felony counts of fraud.

Around 10 p.m., they were at the convenience store and one entered to purchase a carton of cigarettes. Five different cards failed and the manager asked the suspect if he had other means to pay for the cigarettes.

The suspect became nervous and left.

Police Chief Joe Freyhof said the manager followed to get a look at the suspect and the vehicle.

“The manager was able to give officers a great description of the vehicle and the occupants, which led to the traffic stop,” the chief said.

Deputies of the Logan County Sheriff’s Office and Troopers of the Marysville Post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol assisted in stopping the duo.

Officers obtained a search warrant for the vehicle and found 40 prepaid cards in plain view and under the dashboard.

An agent from the Columbus office of the Secret Service traveled to Russells Point and examined the cards, finding all but four had been re-encoded with stolen account information.

The crime has become epidemic in the Columbus area and authorities there have started a task force to combat the problem.

Chief Freyhof said the agent gave him an overview of the crime.

Suspects are obtaining stolen credit card account information from largely overseas hackers who likely targeted large department stores.

The information is then encoded on the back of blank gift cards.

Fraudulent card or cloned credit cards are given to “shoppers” who in turn head to department stores, convenience shops and gas stations to purchase genuine gift cards or cigarettes.

Cigarettes are sold to other convenience stores for cash while the gift cards are returned to the encoder for a percentage of the card’s value.

It is estimated an encoder and his “shoppers” can make more than $30,000 a weekend.

Store clerks, managers and owners should look for:

• customers who come in with a stack of gift cards;

• that the last four numbers on the receipt match the last four numbers on the card, especially when  multiple cards come up declined; and

• a sticker that covers the front card number.

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