Lunch this day was at Five Happiness, but when it came time to pay the check there was one annoyance. My debit card was rejected. I knew the account had sufficient cash so I just thought that the restaurant’s machine was malfunctioning. Fortunately, I had another acceptable card, but later that day when I tried the original card elsewhere I got the same result. Clearly something was amiss that was going to require a trip to the bank.

To its credit, the bank, Capitol One, had noticed a series of questionable transactions and blocked the account. The bank officer printed out a sheet of attempted purchases.

Once he captured my card numbers, the sleaze-bag (and I use that term in its kindest sense) went on a shopping spree. His first stop was Best Buy store 8052 that is located on the West Bank. He tried to spend $378.86 but was rejected.

Within the next few minutes he tried two more purchases made to something called Techonthego, which, I think, is one of those electronic vending machines. One attempted purchase was for $1623.74 and the other was for $716.49. Both were rejected. Had they not been I would be down by $2719.05.

Being a crook can be tiring work, so three hours later, having crossed over to the East Bank, he tried to spend $39.59 at the Rouse’s on Baronne Street. Another rejection.

I guess he was hoping his luck would be better on the next day when he ran up a bill of $59.41 at the Kenner Wal-Mart only to be slammed again. Two hours later his spree ended rather pathetically by being rejected for a $1 purchase at the Time Clock Food Store in Marrero.

By the next day the card had been cancelled totally and all he had left was a piece of plastic and a ticket to hell.

I still don’t know how this happened. The bank officer mentioned that there are skimmer devices that are placed in cash machines and can record card numbers on a magnetic tape. Other gizmos can put the stolen numbers on plastic. My last approved use of the card was at one of those French Quarter pay machine parking lots. Maybe the thief got my information there.

Being skimmed is something I never thought much about, but let me give testimony – it does happen. Further proof came last week when I saw this headline on Nola.comPolice find credit card skimmers, 175 stolen card numbers in Algiers hotel rooms

Eagerly I read:

A search last week of two Algiers hotel rooms where four Brazilian men had been staying turned up several ATM skimming devices and 175 magnetic stripe cards encoded with stolen credit card numbers, authorities said.

According to the article, a “multiagency task force” arrested the men Thursday (Aug. 4) on hundreds of counts of bank fraud and other charges.

Authorities identified the four men as Fernando Minguzzi, 21; Andre Goncalves Pereira, 28; Harik Enedino Dos Santos, 31; and Joao Freire Da Silva Neto, 33.

Known as a ”U.S. Secret Service Financial Crimes Task Force” participants included ”members of the U.S. Secret Service, Louisiana Bureau of Investigation, New Orleans Police Department and Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office.”

In addition to the cards being encoded with stolen numbers and skimming equipment, agents' searched the hotel rooms and cars turning up $9,000 in cash …

Agents reportedly found equipment that is used to make skimmer devices for ATMs, including a magnetic strip "reader/writer device" that was connected to a laptop.

I know, “Innocent until proven guilty," but these suspects sure have suspicious toys. So what happened to these men?

Orleans Magistrate Commissioner Albert Thibodeaux ordered Minguzzi, Da Silva Neto and Goncalves Pereira to surrender their passports as a condition of their bond. For all three men, he set their bonds at $500 per each count, for a total of $262,500. The next court hearing for those three men is scheduled for Sept. 1.

I don’t know if these are the people who skimmed me. I did notice, however, that whoever did it seemed to spend a lot of time of the West Bank and the four accused were staying at a West Bank motel. Maybe it is just a coincidence, but any arrest is good if it discourages others from being as sleazy. (On a special note, thanks and good work to the task force members.)

According to the same report, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office and the NOPD have also been investigating skimming devices on local fuel pumps and ATMs in New Orleans.

Finally, this advice from the police – should anyone find a skimmer device, “Leave it in place and call 911.”

We can’t let the skimmers win. At least there are four who, if found guilty, lost. We suspect there are no ATMs in prison.





BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and at book web sites.