A credit card fraud ring was disrupted when Hightstown police made a routine traffic stop on Mercer Street near Cedar Hill Cemetery.
Police pulled over a car on Dec. 14 for going 43 mph in a 25 mph area, and found the car was stolen, police said.
Isaac Johnson, 24, of Lawrenceville, was arrested and had nine Master Cards and five Visa cards in two different people’s names on him, which lead police to believe the cards could be fraudulent or stolen, said Hightstown police Detective Benjamin Miller.
Over the next few days Miller matched the names and numbers on the card with the actual account numbers, and found that the cards had been compromised.
One victim told Miller they received a letter from a credit card company saying there was had a security breach, and the company told Miller information was pushed to Russia. Miller said it is unknown if it’s connected, but contacted the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office and the United States Secret Service.
The Secret Service used a machine to determine that on four of the cards found in Johnson's possession, the numbers on the cards did not match the numbers read on the strips, Miller said.
Based on all this information, Hightstown police obtained a search warrant for both Johnson’s house and the car.
The search warrant for Johnson's residence on O'Neill Court in the Lawrence Square Village complex was executed about 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 15 by Hightstown police, the prosecutor’s office and the Lawrence Township Police Department, police said.
An embossing machine used to imprint numbers on credit cards, a skimming machine used to copy information from credit card magnetic strips, 26 additional credit cards, gift cards and two driver's licenses with different names but the same photo were found at Johnson’s house, Miller said. Two additional fraudulent credit cards and a credit card reader/writer were found in the car.
“They’re throughout the whole United States, it’s not isolated to this area,” Miller said. “Some are even out of the country,” noting some cards were from Brazil and Germany.
Receipts for overseas money transfers were also found, and police are still trying to track down victims whose identities have been compromised, which can be a long and tedious process, Miller said.
Miller said the fraudulent cards were used in the Middlesex and Mercer counties, and at least $10,000 was spent that has been identified. That number is expected to increase as more victims are found, Miller said.
Miller said typically the way the credit card fraud works is the criminal will use a stolen card to make smaller purchases to ensure the card works, and will eventually make larger purchases at one time. Then they will stop using the card before it is flagged.
Hightstown police charged Johnson with identify theft, forgery, credit card theft and possession of stolen property, and bail was set at $60,000. Police believe others are also involved with the scheme, but no one else had been charged as of late last week.
Lawrence police said the investigation is continuing as to whether Johnson will be charged for any crimes in Lawrence Township. Miller said Johnson may face additional charges from Hightstown police as the investigation continues.