Mechanical

Don't fuck with Ovid -- the long version

This morning, I found out that thousands of dollars of charges had been made on two of my credit cards in the past two days. Now, the identity thieves are sitting in jail. This is how it happened. It involves identity theft, a careless thief, one pissed-off Ovid and lots of luck.

I mentioned earlier that it took me less than an hour to find them, but it really depends on when you start counting. Maybe two hours is more accurate. Eh, who cares? They're caught. And where I have times listed, these are the times pulled off of my cell phone.

8:02 AM. I get a call on my cell phone from a number I don't recognize, but I didn't get to the phone in time. Calling back gives me a recorded message informing me that "the subscriber you have dialed is unavailable or has traveled outside their service area." That seemed odd because they had called me a few seconds ago.

~10:00 AM. I receive a call on my home phone. I almost didn't answer it, but it turns out it was the Discover Card Fraud Unit informing me that $2100.00 in charges had been made on my card in the past two days and had I made them?

Well, no. I typically don't go on spending sprees like that, but Discover was very helpful and honestly, I didn't even think about calling the police. I was actually just happy that Discover was treating me fairly (I gotta say, Discover's always been good to me) and I assumed that this was some online scam the police couldn't do anything about.

11:04 AM. My cell phone rings. It's that strange number again. Turns out that it's a Visa fraud unit calling me and thousands of dollars in charges had been made on my card in the past two days and had I made them?

Well, no. But this time I know I could be serious trouble. We start talking and they told me that Costco.com put through charges on my account despite the fact that the expiration date was wrong! (Note that in my earlier rant, I was confused about the expiration dates. Now I know what's going on.) They also mentioned something very interesting. It seems that just this morning, the thieves made a purchase at a Denny's Restaurant at zip code 97232.

Now I'm pissed. In fact, I'm so mad about this that the obvious doesn't sink in for a bit. I have interesting information. You don't have breakfast mail-ordered. These thieves were at that restaurant and that's a local zip code. Since my 'net connection went down this morning, I called pdx42 and asked him if he could look up that Denny's for me. He did. I know exactly where that Denny's is and it's not far from where I live. pdx42 told me to call the police right away and perhaps I should have, but I also know that speed is everything. Whoever served the food might be hopping off shift. If they're still at the restaurant, maybe they'll remember the order. It's a longshot, but it's the best I've got.

12:00 noon. I hop in the car and drive down to Denny's and ask to speak to the manager. I apologized for bothering him during the lunch rush and then explained what was going on. I pulled out my Visa. "This card was used here this morning. Someone has seen the thief. I know your registers store the day's credit card transactions. Is there any way you can look up this number and tell me who served them?"

The manager, Pat, said he'd be happy to help. As I sat and waited, I called the police. They said they'd have someone call me. Great. In Portland, the police department is so strapped that unless it's a person-to-person crime, it's pretty low priority.

Pat came back and told me he found the order. It seems that it was a phone order for carryout so he didn't have a signed receipt. However, he had something better. He gave me a description of the guy who picked up the order. He was a skinny blond kid, early twenties, t-shirt, dark-colored slacks and maybe 5 and half feet tall. Did he have any tattoos or other distinguishing marks? No. Were there logos or anything on his clothes? Don't remember. Did he say anything, have an accent? Not much and no. Pretty normal.

Great. This guy has described half of Portland's youth. Nothing. Is there anything else you can remember? "Oh, yeah. He said he was staying at the Red Lion."

I looked out the front window. There was the Red Lion Inn. Could my thief really be that stupid? I knew this was a dead-end, but again, I had nothing else. I thank Pat, walk towards the Red Lion, and then remember I forgot a crucially important question. I ran back to the restaurant.

"He was here when we first opened. 6 A.M."

Getting to the Red Lion front desk, I quickly explain what's going. They tried looking my name up to see if I was registered as a guest, but nothing came up. I described the guy but no one seemed to remember him. I asked if there was anyone there who might remember what their customers might look like that early in the morning. They called the lady who worked the morning shift and put me on the phone. I described the guy. No, she informs me. That describes tons of people who were there. She doesn't remember anyone who specifically might match that description.

I thanked her and was about to hang up when she said "sorry. We were pretty busy last night."

"No. He would have been here this morning. 6:00 AM."

"Oh! I know who you're talking about. He has a roommate and they're in room 327."

How the hell this lady remembered the guy and which room he's in, I'll never know, but I'm completely blown away at my stroke of luck. Do I have my thief?

The people behind the desk start rooting around for information and we get the smoking gun. They have a registration through hotels.com for the guys in room 327. The room is in their name. The billing is in mine.

12:19 PM. I call the police again. They want to know how I know the guilty part is in the room. I explain that I don't, but I have proof that he's registered as a guest. They tell me they'll send an officer. I go back to the front desk and am waiting, chatting with the folks there and trying to get more information. It seems they frequently use the computer in the hotel lobby, one of them had a Minnesota birth certificate faxed to him there and the hotel staff thought they were strange. They were also repeat customers, but it turns out they registered under different names, previously.

Then the conversation fell silent. I knew something was up and a young man walked past me to get to the computer. The manager on duty frantically pointed at him as he walked past and I knew this was one of them. It was all I could do to stop myself from turning around and confronting the guy. Instead, I asked if they had any literature about convention rates.

The manager whispered to me that if I want to make a quiet call, I can use their office. I followed her and walked past the guy sitting at the computer. His back was to me, so he didn't notice anything.

12:41 PM. I call the police again. I ask when the officers would get there and explain that at least one of the thieves is accounted for. At this point, the manager returns to the office and tells me the other one is in the lobby. One of the other front desk people takes my phone and gives a long description and pace nervously for quite a while. Meanwhile, the thieves leave the lobby and head back to their room.

~12:50, I poke my head out in time to see police officers going up the stairs. The head maintenance man tells me that he's stationed people near the exits to see where the guys go if they flee. As it turns out (I found out later), as the officers were heading towards their room, one of them walked out and was trying to leave at just that moment. The officers stopped this person and entered the room. There was drug paraphernalia (needles) lying around and in searching the room, they found yet another piece of damning evidence. Credit card companies will sometimes send out "checks" that you can use to make a cash advance. One of them had one of my Visa checks in his pocket. Signed.

Shortly afterwards, the police led the two thieves by me. They were in handcuffs and I had the biggest grin on my face. Dumb luck and persistence paid off.




Interesting side notes:

One of the thieves looks very familiar. It's bugging me, but I can't place him.

One of the police officers gave a maintenance guy a plastic Coke bottle filled with syringes to dispose of. Isn't that supposed to be evidence?

Update: I am told that a police report should be ready by Monday. I'll get it as soon as I can, scan it and post it.

Update2: to "droop": sorry about deleting your entry about syringes. I'm on a laptop and the irritating trackpad and I don't play well together. Just to address your concerns, though, I'd like to mention that the hotel informed me they had proper sharps disposal, so no needles were being thrown in the trash.
  • Current Mood: happy happy
That is incredible...it was as though I was reading a novel. Good detective work, C.
That is so awesome, I am impressed with your detective work, and amazed that you actually got the cops to come. Kudos to you for catching the crooks.
Damn. You're good. That has to be seriously satisfying.
Wow!
Whoa! That is incredibly awesome that everything worked out in the end! I commend you for persistence, for keeping a cool head during these stressful moments, and following up!
p.s.
This also leads me to think that if these thieves are pros, you not only straightened out your own fraud issues, but also that of many others who may have been swindled by these two thieves. Great work!
What an incredible tale. That's some excellent leg work. Glad you caught the bastards!
6 to 1 says at least one of those kids knows Perl and has been to Defcon, sounds to me like you were targeted.
It's just a guess though.

The entire story makes me mad, I can't believe this crap can happen!
OH SURE BLAME PERL! :P yeah, i bet python programmers wouldn't have done that. fucking perl programmers.... :P
Did one of the crooks mutter, as he passed by you, "And I would've gotten away with it if it wasn't for that meddling geek!"?

Well done. Yet another thrilling chapter to The Amazing Adventures of Ovid.
some people write LOL all the time, and I think they must be maniacs if they are really sitting there laughing and ROFLing all the time, but damnit. LOfuckingL Thank you. I needed that laugh.
Good job!

Persistance does pay off... because previously the PDX police couldn't even bother to bust a huge ID theft ring... even when they had the address of where they were AT!

Derek had fradulent charges made on his account earlier this week too... the charges were in GERMANY.

You can't tell me that having our personal information handled by unknown persons in a foreign county is a GOOD thing (India being my case in point).
(Anonymous)
well, in fairness, the chances of getting ripped off are pretty much the same no matter what country the call centre is in.

although admittedly there's no chance of catching the guy yourself if he's in a different continent, but this has to be a first for catching the fraudsters in such a manner. well done! great reading
So, I hope you can figure out why you think one of them looks very familiar... 'cause if this were a movie, that would lead you to the third guy who was actually the ring-leader who's still on the loose...

Amazing. I wonder if they targetted other people besides you; whether everybody on your street who got a credit-card bill this week is equally in your debt. :)

Yikes. Wow. Good going!
Wow. You were so lucky... that's so great of Discover to call you. i've had one credit card do that, but of course, i HAD made the purchase. :)
I had the opposite call...
(Anonymous)
I had one credit card company call me to tell me they noticed unusually large charges on my card, and so took the liberty of raising my spending limit so as to not inconvenience me.

Luckily, it WAS me that made the charge.
That is the most amazing thing I've read in quite a while. Wow. I am really impressed.

Talk about your lucky situations...