Haagen-Dazs customers at Tampa's International Plaza may be ID theft victims

5:44 PM, Feb 14, 2013   |    comments
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Tampa, FL -- Hundreds of people who thought they were enjoying a sweet treat at the Häagen-Dazs ice cream shop in International Plaza may be victims of identity theft.

Investigators say while customers were helping themselves to a snack, thieves were helping themselves to the customers' credit and debit card info.

The Häagen-Dazs shop inside the food court gets a lot of customers.

Some are from here, but many may be from out of town and perhaps even outside the country, given its proximity to Tampa International Airport.

And the majority of those victimized probably have no idea they've been double dipped.

"It makes you mad," said Elizabeth Watts, who's pretty sure she's one of the victims of the scam. "The card never left my sight. So that kind of freaked me out."

The scoop, say investigators, is this:

Up until just last month, and perhaps eight months before that, someone had been secretly skimming the Häagen-Dazs store's cash register. A key-logger on a thumb drive that was stuck in the register's USB port recorded credit and debit card transactions.

Then, using the digital info, "they were able to make counterfeit credit cards," said U.S. Secret Service Agent John Joyce.

Police started to catch on to what was happening back in June, when they arrested two men outside a Walmart on Gandy Boulevard in South Tampa. The men had just purchased about $1,900 worth of merchandise using a phony card, say detectives.

Tampa police arrested 32-year-old Lazaro Rodriguez and 26-year-old Abel Osoria Cuok. Officials say Cuok had another 18 counterfeit cards in his wallet and 36 more in his car. 

A couple of weeks ago, police traced the stolen ID's back to the Häagen-Dazs and found the skimmer.

Investigators say the ice cream store's management has been cooperating, apparently uninvolved and unaware of the frozen fraud being perpetrated on customers there for months.

"There are at least several hundred, if not more," said Joyce.

There are almost certainly more arrests still to some in this case, Joyce said.

In the meantime, the compromised card numbers may be halfway around the world by now, being used by who knows who.

Officials recommend anyone who's done business at the Häage-Dazs in the last year to check their credit card and bank statements and keep doing so for the next several months.

Victims should contact their banks or credit card companies, said Joyce. He also says victims should contact at least one of the major credit agencies to put them on notice.

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