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Credit card fraud scam uncovered

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A sophisticated credit card scam, involving hundreds of cards, thousands of numbers and an unknown number of victims, was discovered in Sonoma Feb. 21, with the arrest of a 41-year-old Sausalito man who used a fraudulent card at McCaulou’s department store.

The man, identified as Storm Bradford, had tried to purchase $276 worth of clothing with a credit card that was repeatedly refused by the store’s card reader. The man told the clerk to just enter the numbers manually, she first contacted her manager who recognized the name on the card as having been used for a fraudulent purchase in April of 2013, and the manager called police.

When police arrived they found a woman who had been with the man waiting for him outside the store. Both were detained while officers questioned the suspect and the store manager produced a receipt from the fraudulent purchase in 2013, along with a receipt for a second fraudulent purchase from a McCaulou’s store in Lafayette.

Besides the fraudulent card, the man had in his possession the keys to a gold Lexus in the parking lot he said belonged to a friend. Police had also discovered a small amount of methamphetamine in the man’s wallet, which gave them additional probable cause to search the Lexus. When they did, they discovered 500 blank credit cards, a credit card embossing machine, a laptop computer with thousands of stolen or fraudulently created credit card numbers, and a notebook in which additional number variations had been handwritten, crossed out, and re-entered in different combinations.

Confronted with this evidence, and a stolen Go Pro camera also in the car, Bradford laid out the range of his fraudulent activities. He told police there is “an abundance of sites online” for coming up with credit card numbers. Some numbers, he said, are good through the first 12 digits and algorithms exist for manipulating the last four digits until they work.

He explained he sometimes tested a series of numbers through online shopping, making changes each time a number is rejected until he hits on a successful sequence. He would then use that number to imprint another credit card.

While none of the phony cards would be accepted by a card reader because the card’s magnetic stripe was not encoded, he would simply ask for the card numbers to be entered manually, thus bypassing the magnetic reader.

A similar strategy was used by a man who purchased several thousand dollars worth of jewelry from local stores several weeks ago using a fraudulent card. Police said Friday, they questioned Bradford about that case but he denied involvement and officers later confirmed the identity of the man they believe to be the actual jewel thief.

Bradford, meanwhile, shared the unsettling information that his criminal strategy is virtually ubiquitous. “Everybody’s doing it,” he allegedly told police.

Bradford was charged with felony forging an access card to defraud; burglary by fraud; felony use of an access card account; and felony possession of a controlled substance. He was booked into the county jail.

The woman he was with, and who told police the two had come to Sonoma for “a romantic day,” denied any knowledge of Bradford’s criminal behavior and was released.