EFFINGHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - Effingham County investigators say a five-month investigation busted the ringleaders of card skimming in at least three local counties.
Just before 5 a.m. Thursday, the Effingham County Sheriff's Office, along with numerous assisting agencies served five search warrants in Effingham County in conjunction with an ongoing investigation that started in September of 2017. The initial investigation into stolen vehicles and property has recently turned up credit card fraud as well - specifically, the recent credit card skimmer fraud in Effingham and adjoining counties. During this investigation, over $1 million in stolen vehicles and property has been recovered.
Gena Bilbo with the Effingham County Sheriff's Office explained how many areas were a victim before this bust.
"Bulloch County; they just recently had skimmer issues. Brooklet just made arrests. It's all connected. It's all connected to this credit card fraud," she said.
The biggest hero in this triumph was actually technology. ERAD, a prepaid card reader, allows law enforcement to check fraudulent cards in the field for suspicious activity with just one swipe.
"We have a terminal that is handheld, battery-operated, so it's mobile, has a printer in it so it would be able to keep a record of the transactions. It can read a card and it can freeze that value literally in under 10 seconds," said Jack Williams, President of ERAD.
The card skimming in the Coastal Empire was with credit cards at gas stations, but an ERAD device can alert the cops of a sham on any prepaid card.
"Prepaid cards are now the currency of the criminals. Now, rather than the movement of cash in suitcases, they're able to put large amounts of money on a single pre-paid card or on a number of prepaid cards," Williams explained. "A metro card, a hotel room key, a driver's license; anything with a mag stripe can be repurposed to be a pre-paid card with considerable amounts of money on it."
Law enforcement is confident it has nailed those who created hundreds of victims over the last few months, and uncovered much more than that.
"Even fraudulent cards from today. Even people who don't even know their account has been compromised yet. We've got cards back there with people's names on them," Bilbo said as she pointed to the evidence room.
As law enforcement continues to get to the bottom of this fraud, they say it's not over - and that you should stay on your toes.
"Sometimes they won't hit you up right at first. They'll get your information and they'll hold onto it and a month or two down the road they'll do it. Be vigilant. Check your bank account and make sure there are no charges you haven't purchased," Bilbo said.
These crimes are still under investigation. No names of those involved have been released yet.
The Effingham Sheriff's Office says it will release more information in the next few days.