McALLEN — As they drove over the Anzalduas International Bridge on Sunday morning, Mary Carmen Garcia and Daniel Dominguez could have passed for any of the thousands of Mexican tourists who visit the Rio Grande Valley each week.
But the Monterrey couple represented a different kind of tourism, authorities say.
Garcia and Dominguez have been accused of being part of a group of sophisticated credit card cloners who have been linked to December’s Target security breach. During that breach, unknown individuals — possibly from Eastern Europe — allegedly broke into the retailer’s computer system and made off with nearly 100 million credit card numbers.
Garcia and Dominguez ended up using some of those numbers during a Jan. 12 shopping spree, said Victor Rodriguez, McAllen police chief.
About 7 a.m. Sunday, Garcia and Dominguez rode a white Nissan Sentra to the inspection booth where U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers matched the Monterrey couple to some outstanding warrants from the McAllen Police Department, according to a prepared CBP statement. During the arrest, authorities found more than 100 cloned cards hidden within the couples’ clothing.
Using forged licenses from the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon with the names Judith Garcia and Ivan Garcia, the two intended to use the more than 100 cloned credit cards with the same names, Rodriguez said.
The two suspects were expected to be formally charged Tuesday morning.
The case against Garcia, 27, and Dominguez, 28, began Jan. 12 after several banking institutions contacted the McAllen Police Department to report fraudulent credit card activity, Rodriguez said Monday afternoon.
During that weekend, Garcia and Dominguez went to various retailers, purchasing a number of high-end electronics which added up to several tens of thousands of dollars, Rodriguez said.
“This is why we ask our retailers to be aware,” the chief said. “If you have a customer that gets a card and it gets declined, then he gets another one and another one and goes through a dozen until it clears, you should call someone.”
As part of the investigation into the fraud police detectives teamed up with the U.S. Secret Service and were able to confirm that the account numbers used during that shopping spree matched the numbers that had been stolen during the Target security breach.
“Using the numbers and the time and place of the purchases, we were able to go back to the retailer’s surveillance footage and we were able to find a suspect vehicle,” Rodriguez said. “Using that vehicle, we checked with (the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) to track down the vehicle, and with their help we were able to identify these two individuals and secure warrants for their arrest.”
Once in police custody, Garcia and Dominguez told investigators how they had been able to make those cards.
“We have reason to believe that these two individuals are part of a much larger fraud conspiracy,” Rodriguez said.
The individual or individuals behind the Target hack have been selling the information in sections by region. The couple in custody had been communicating with the overseas hackers, and using the card information they purchased, they made a series of bank cards with false names as well as empty gift cards, the chief said. They did this by overwriting the encoding in the magnetic strip with the information from the hacked accounts.
Since it has been more than a month since the highly publicized hack, many customers have already taken protective measures with their accounts, Rodriguez said. The information from the hack has become perishable, leading authorities to believe that the hacker or hackers will try to sell them fast, which could lead to similar cases.
McAllen has already seen its share of fraudulent credit card groups. In mid-January 2013, McAllen police working with federal authorities arrested three men, who’d been using purchased credit card information and re-encoding card templates in an almost identical fashion to the one used by Garcia and Dominguez.
In July 2012, McAllen police and Secret Service agents arrested Mario Wong, a Monterrey man who along with co-conspirators had used counterfeit cards to draw more than $130,000 from ATMs under threat of torture by the Zetas, court records show.