Four more men have been arrested for using "cloned" credit cards to purchase gift cards at a Northwest Georgia store in an operation intriguing local and federal investigators.
Authorities do not know how the black MasterCards are being cloned, said Dalton Police Detective Jason Bishop, who has been investigating since the first arrests on March 29.
"I've had victims calling and say, 'My card is being used at your Wal-Mart, but I have my card,'" he said.
"They capture the numbers, imprint them on cards and they have some way that the cards can be swiped, which usually can't be done," Detective Bishop said about running the fake cards through computerized accounting machines.
The most recent arrests were last week in Trenton, Ga.
YOU CAN HELP
Anyone with information about the cloned, black MasterCards should call the Secret Service at 423-752-5125.
The earlier arrests were March 29 at the Wal-Mart in Fort Oglethorpe, and those suspects were tied to hits on stores in Dalton, Cartersville, Marietta and College Park, said Fort Oglethorpe Lt. Detective Greg Wingo.
Detective Bishop said the suspects use the bogus cards sometimes to buy electronics, but mostly for gift cards which have been redeemed in the Atlanta area.
The sophisticated operation has gotten federal attention, with the FBI and the U.S. Secret Service involved in the investigations.
Detective Wingo said the search of a Global Positioning System device one man had revealed Wal-Mart stores mapped from metro Atlanta all the way to Kentucky.
At the stores, the investigators said the suspects would go from one checkout counter to another buying gift cards.
Detective Wingo said estimates of the losses just at the Fort Oglethorpe Wal-Mart alone are as high as $120,000.
In Dade County, the suspects were at the Bi-Lo in Trenton attempting to buy gift cards, according to reports, but repeated attempts Monday and Tuesday to get comments from the Dade County Sheriff's Department were unsuccessful.
The Dalton detective said, "The Dade (suspects) had upward of 40 cloned (credit cards). They were black MasterCards with the label 'Value Customer' on them."
He said those were the same type of cards used in the other thefts.
Determining the identities of the men has been challenging, authorities said.
The two arrested in Fort Oglethorpe are identified as Abdoulaye Berry, age unknown, of New York, and Mamadou Diallo, 23, of Riverdale, Ga. Two other men escaped from the scene.
Dade County Jail officials said Tuesday the four arrested there are being held while investigators try to verify their identities and see if they are wanted on charges elsewhere.
The four were tentatively identified as Thierno Hassan Barry, Mamoudou Diallo, Ibrahima Diallo and Abdouloye Diallo, jail officials said. They listed addresses in Atlanta and New York, and their ages were not available.
Detective Bishop said investigators ultimately learned the first two men arrested came to the United States from Guinea in West Africa in 2004 through an asylum program. Both have prior arrest records.
Mr. Diallo is jailed without bond in Dalton because of other charges. Mr. Berry is in the Catoosa County Jail.
Detective Bishop said the fact one man arrested in Dade County has the same name as his suspect only adds to the intrigue.
The suspects face as many as 50 charges each, including multiple counts of fraud, identify theft, forgery and duplication, authorities said.
Investigators found a letter written in Arabic in a pocket of one of the men arrested in Fort Oglethorpe, and thought it might answer some questions, Detective Wingo said.
He got it translated by federal authorities, but the letter didn't help solve the case.
"It was a prayer letter for good luck and to ward off evil spirits," the investigator said with a laugh.