Robert Reynoso makes a living driving people around town with his limousine company, Celebrity Image. But a group of customers he chauffeured to and from Madera County has turned his life upside down. "I got a call from the bank saying we have a number of bad transactions. More than likely they're all going to be bad," said Reynoso.
A total of $29,000 worth of transactions from December of 2012 to this past March all fraud -- all due to phony credit cards. "Everything was phony. It was a phony identification card with a phony name to a phony credit card," said Reynoso.
Investigators with the Madera County Sheriff's Department say the suspected thieves racking up the charges hit at least half a dozen businesses in Oakhurst and Coarsegold -- including Chukchansi Casino.
Authorities say the suspects obtain pre-paid gift credit cards and through a sophisticated process, replace the information on the card with someone else's valid account number. "They're stealing credit card information off the internet. Once they get these numbers to make sure they're valid numbers, they're calling the universal merchant number, which is what retailers do to verify a credit card," said Erica Stuart with the Madera County Sheriff's Dept.
Thieves are then able to get away with the fraud transaction if merchants don't exercise due diligence. "As far as merchants go, ask for identification," cautions Stuart. "Take a real hard look at that credit card or gift card and if it doesn't swipe, try not to manually put those numbers in. Ask for another form of payment."
As for Reynoso, he's filing grand theft charges against the clients who used aliases to defraud his limo company. "I'm pressing charges because I'm not just going to run off and say, 'see you later, I owe $30,000,'" said Reynoso.
Madera County authorities say this could be a ring operation but are still investigating the case. They believe more victims could come forward.