“They were going to gas stations, grocery stores and other places with these cloned credit cards to buy these cigarettes,” says Lexington Police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts.
Cloning credit cards is possible with a small device called that costs about $100 on eBay. The device reads credits cards then transfers the information onto another card with a magnetic strip; usually another credit card.
“It’s becoming a problem across the country, and especially here in the Bluegrass, says Lexington Police Financial Crimes Unit Sergeant Eric Hobson. “This is a common scam trending nationwide. With technology and with the availability of credit and debit cards, it's the easy crime for them to do.”
“Cigarettes have become the target of cloned credit cards, especially here in Kentucky,” Hobson says. “That’s because the Commonwealth of Kentucky has one of the lowest tobacco taxes in the country.”
On Tuesday, Lexington and Nicholasville police teamed up with the U.S. Secret Service and arrested nine people suspected in using cloned credit cards to buy over 68,000 cigarettes, totaling about $16,000.
Investigators said the group re-encoded stolen credit card information onto phony cards and purchased cartons of cigarettes from stores all over the Bluegrass. According to court documents, the cartons were then to be taken to Atlanta to be sold.
In the newest development in the case, Lexington Police tell ABC 36, the ring leader of the group is now in custody.
“We knew there was one additional person that we were attempting to locate. We had a vehicle description and license plate number, and we, along with the secret service, put out an attempt to locate on the vehicle,” says Hobson. “Later in the evening we got a call from Knoxville, Tennessee, saying the vehicle had been located, and the driver had been detained.”
The 10th suspect, Housseini Diakite, is who police are calling the mastermind of the operation.
Police say Diakite will be brought back to Lexington to face charges of Participating in Organized Crime, Theft by Deception, and numerous other charges. He is also facing similar charges in Tennessee.