Florida Man charged with identity theft at Huntsville Wal-Mart

A Florida man was arrested last week and charged with identity theft after being spotted acting suspiciously at the Huntsville Wal-Mart.

Fernando Martinez, 32, a Cuban national with a current address in Florida, caught the eye of Wal-Mart loss prevention officers on April 16 at approximately 4:15 p.m. while he attempted to use several credit cards at a self-checkout station in the store.

According to Sgt. Jim Barnes of the Huntsville Police Department, Martinez was attempted to load a cash value onto several Wal-Mart gift cards using the credit cards, a common practice among identity thieves.

Barnes and Detective Ken Foulch were in Wal-Mart for an unrelated matter when loss prevention officers alerted them to Martinez’s activity.

After observing Martinez for several minutes, Barnes and Foulch confronted Martinez with the assistance of loss prevention staff.

“Everything we’ve learned about identity theft, this guy was doing,” Barnes said. “He had a stack of credit cards and he was trying to use them, and they weren’t working, which is usually a sign that something is up.”

Martinez was detained and questioned by detectives, and later transported to the HPD for further questioning.

“He was very uncooperative with us, and claimed that he didn’t speak English,” Barnes said. “We were able to identify him from his Florida driver’s license.”

While a Spanish-speaking officer interviewed Martinez, detectives investigated the seven credit cards in Martinez’s possession. According to Barnes, several were in Martinez’s name, but others were not. Seeking further detail, detectives enlisted the helped of the Sam Houston State University Police Department, who supplied a card reader machine to determine ownership of the cards.

“We’ve been coordinating with UPD quite a bit in identity theft investigations due to the fact that a lot of students are victims,” Barnes said.

After scanning the cards, it was determined that the account number listed on the card itself was false, and that the card was actually encoded to draw funds from another, pirated account.

According to Barnes, it is very common for identity theft rings to send individuals into stores, particularly Wal-Mart stores, with “cloned” credit cards. The cards are marked with the name of the individual, but the account the funds are drawn from is that of an identity theft victim.

To avoid suspicion, the individual with the cards will load the funds from the stolen accounts on gift cards rather than make purchases with the cards themselves. The gift cards will then be distributed back through the organization, and will be either sold or used to buy merchandise, which will then in turn be sold.

“It’s basically a laundering scheme,” Barnes said. “It’s putting free money in their pocket.”

Martinez claimed to have bought the cards from an individual in Miami, but denied being aware of any identity theft and was on the whole uncooperative with investigators. He did not provide a reason why he was in the Huntsville area.

“He may be a low level person in this operation and his job may just be going to Wal-Marts all over the south with these cards,” Barnes said. “It’s an organized crime event.”

Martinez was transported to the Walker County Jail and charged with fraudulent use of identifying information.

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