Florida city employee rang up $93K on city credit cards to get butt lift – among other frauds

❝ An investigative report…shows a former city of Gainesville employee, accused of stealing more than $93,000 from the city, spent some of it on a Brazilian butt lift.

The report found that former city staff specialist Natwaina Clark, 33, charged her city-issued credit card 136 times for roughly $61,000 in unauthorized charges, used her bosses’ cards at least 36 more times for an additional $31,000, and spent nearly $900 on a coworker’s card five times between November 2015 and March 2017.

The report also finds department heads acted negligently, allowing city funds to be misspent.

❝ Documents attached to the report show Clark, who was hired in August 2015, funneled roughly $41,000 to her personal PayPal account, linked to her bank account, and that $8,500 of it went toward a Brazilian butt lift. The cosmetic surgery procedure uses fat from one part of the body to augment one’s buttocks…

Clark, whose salary was $33,500, was fired from the city March 21, while on a cruise-ship vacation, the report said. She was arrested March 28 and charged with larceny and scheme to defraud, both felonies…

❝ The city report found the city’s human resources department failed to properly execute the city’s employee background screening and didn’t advise the hiring department about concerns in Clark’s history, allowing her to be hired.

Har. Turns out the HR Department didn’t really do their homework about Clark being busted for similar crimes in another county. Didn’t tell folks in the department where she was hired of any concerns.

Millennials are not owned by credit cards

saupload_hello_kitty_credit_card

Data from the Federal Reserve indicates that the percentage of Americans under 35 who hold credit card debt has fallen to its lowest level since 1989, when the Fed began collecting data in a standardized way…

Some older Americans have also been shedding credit card debt since the financial crisis that began in 2008. But for no other age group has the decline in the proportion holding credit card debt been more rapid than it has been for young Americans…the data from the Survey of Consumer Finances shows.

Their reluctance could have lasting repercussions for millennials, as well as for the financial system and the economy. Early use of credit cards has, in the past, helped young Americans develop a comfort level with credit that can last a lifetime and lead to a succession of big purchases financed by debt. Without a substantial credit history, it is much harder to take out a home mortgage, for example…

The resurgence of overall credit card use in the United States over the last year or two has been driven largely by subprime borrowers, according to the Federal Reserve…

But it is clear to economists who study payment patterns that millennials are gravitating toward payment methods that skirt both cash and credit. Why carry cash when you can whip out a debit card for the smallest transaction — a sandwich or a bottle of soda — or use an app like Venmo or an online payment service like PayPal? All of those typically draw funds directly from a bank account…

Recent data has also suggested that millennials are using credit cards less than people of a similar age did in the past — and that they are taking on fewer auto loans and mortgage loans than people of similar age did before the financial crisis.

Many young people carry burdensome loads of student debt, making it hard for them to take on any more debt — and giving them a sour taste in their mouths when it comes to credit of any sort. The average American under 35 now has $17,200 of student debt, 182 percent more than Americans of the same age had in 1995…

Then there are the young professionals who are able to get a card, but have seen the strain that debt put on their families and friends during the financial crisis.

There just may be another quality involved. I have no study at hand to prove it – but, I’m beginning to believe in what I call the George Carlin effect. That is, lots of young people already feel they have enough “stuff” without owning a car or a house.

Guess I’ll have to suggest the question to someone reliable – like the Pew Foundation. Maybe they’re already asking the question?

Romney’s campaign staff reach the end of the trail


Don Emmert / AFP – Getty Images

From the moment Mitt Romney stepped off stage Tuesday night, having just delivered a brief concession speech he wrote only that evening, the massive infrastructure surrounding his campaign quickly began to disassemble itself.

Aides taking cabs home late that night got rude awakenings when they found the credit cards linked to the campaign no longer worked.

“Fiscally conservative,” sighed one aide the next day.

In conversations on Wednesday, aides were generally wistful, not angry, at how the campaign ended. Most, like their boss, truly believed the campaign’s now almost comically inaccurate models, and that a victory was well within their grasp…

Yesterday afternoon, campaign manager Matt Rhoades thanked the staff in one last meeting at the campaign’s Boston HQ, as did Romney and his wife, Ann…

After their speeches, Tagg Romney drove the former candidate and his wife home to Belmont.

The office at 585 Commercial St. was largely packed up by the close of business Wednesday (one aide said it looked like it had been sacked by Visigoths), but some staffers will return today to remove their things.

The Mitt Romney for President financial entity survives for as long as two more years, as bills are paid and FEC documents are filed.

In the meantime, lots of Marriott points will be cashed in.

He will not be missed. He wasn’t even as funny as George W.

F.B.I. sting brings cybertheft arrests in 13 countries

For hackers in search of information like credit card numbers and software to spy on computers, the site called Carder Profit appeared to be a veritable eBay for thieves. Instead, it was a creation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

After a two-year undercover operation, authorities in 13 countries arrested two dozen people who are accused of fraud involving computer crime.

Federal officials said Operation Card Shop, as the sting is being called, was unusually broad and represented a significant step in combating credit card fraud, which has grown notably more sophisticated recently.

“These guys represent the complete ecosystem of Internet fraud,” said one senior law enforcement official who requested anonymity because of the confidentiality of the investigation. “We drew them out of the shadows with the Web site as bait…”

The online forum, one law enforcement official said, was “like a restricted eBay,” open only to people who had a reputation and who had been vouched for by someone on the site. Besides the financial data, hacking tips, malware, spyware and access to stolen goods, like iPads and iPhones, were also possible on the site, the official said…

They didn’t just take down one kid and a Web site,” said Dave Marcus, director of advanced research and threat intelligence at McAfee, a major provider of computer security software. “They took down a very organized group of people.”

Bravo! It may seem like a task designed for Sisyphus; but, it’s starting to feel like some policing bodies are getting better at catching the criminal parasites who have chosen to infest cyberspace.

These ain’t some jolly offshoot of the Monkey Wrench Gang, folks. The point of their exercise is theft and extortion. They have nothing to add to hacking regardless what color hat you wear.

Eating out at a posh New York City restaurant? Check your credit card statement daily!


I’ll bet Warren Buffett checks his credit card accounts

Diners at some of New York’s most popular restaurants had their credit card details stolen by waiters working for gangs who targetted American Express black cards then spent millions of dollars on luxury clothes and vintage wine…

The cards of wealthy customers at Smith and Wollensky’s, Capital Grille and Wolfgang’s steakhouses were allegedly “skimmed” and used to buy Rolex watches, Jimmy Choo shoes and Chanel handbags.

Almost 30 people have been charged with crimes including racketeering, conspiracy and grand larceny, after the alleged fraud ring was broken by police in Manhattan. Seven waiters at the restaurants are alleged by prosecutors to have been recruited by Luis Damian “D.J.” Jacas, the 41-year-old alleged ringleader, and equipped with card-copying devices.

They were instructed to focus on customers with premium credit cards including the American Express black card, so that large purchases would not trigger alerts to customers…

Police seized $1.1 million in cash and $1 million worth of designer watches, as well as 100 designer handbags and 35 cases of expensive vintage wine…

To protect the alleged scheme, Jacas is alleged to have only allowed purchases up to $35,000 and to have ordered that the cards be used for three days before being ditched.

His alleged second-in-command, a 51-year-old convicted killer called Gregory Portacio, 51, remains at large. All the defendants deny the charges. They each face up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

Not a new practice. We all know that. But access to top-shelf clientele and high credit lines makes the scam more profitable than ever.

Top-rated restaurants had better check their hires with more accuracy. Consumers should be using accounts which allow a chance for you daily to check on illegal charges. It’s in your own interest, folks.

Hide your credit cards from yourself – in the peanut butter jar!

Worried that you’ll break down and use your credit cards on a frivolous purchase before you pay off the balance? Make the physical cards difficult to access by placing them in a jar of peanut butter. You’ll probably want to put the cards in a plastic baggie before burying them in the jar, but if not you’ll have even more incentive not to use the card.

We’ve all seen the freeze your credit card in a block of ice trick before – hiding them from burglars – but personal finance blog Squawkfox recommends placing your credit cards in a jar of peanut butter. I can see a few advantages of using peanut butter as a delay mechanism rather than ice; it doesn’t take up any freezer space, and while most burglars know to check the freezer, very few of them will take out enough peanut butter to find your cards.

The idea being that if it’s too difficult for burglars to steal your credit cards it’s unlikely you’ll spend less-motivated energy schlepping them out of the peanut butter yourself and cleaning them up to use for an impulse purchase.

I know. It’s a pretty dumb idea. Lots wrong with it. But, every time I wander past it in the file I keep for blog ideas – I can’t help smiling. Maybe you will, too.

City administration in Chicago cuts up hundreds of credit cards


Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Local government employees who once passed around 500 credit cards will now get by on just eight, under a crackdown that exceeded Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s expectations.

Two months ago, Emanuel reduced the number of credit cards to 30 after alleged abuses that ousted the chiefs of the CHA and Chicago Park District. The plan called for five credit cards to be issued to top executives of each of six agencies: the CTA, CHA, Park District, Chicago Public Schools, City Colleges and Public Building Commission. Monthly expenditures are posted on the Internet.

Now, the number of credit cards has been further reduced to “no more than eight” with three of the six agencies joining City Hall in going cold turkey.

In a news release touting the additional cuts, Emanuel noted that lax policies he inherited had “allowed city employees to treat a city credit card as their personal expense accounts.”

He added, “Our residents work hard every day and we work for them. Abuse or misuse of taxpayer dollars absolutely will not be tolerated…”

Earlier this year, the inspector general of the Chicago Public Schools questioned more than $800,000 in spending under former school board presidents Michael Scott and Rufus Williams. The spending — not all of which was charged to CPS credit cards — ranged from $3,000 to check the board’s offices for “eavesdropping devices” to $12,624 for holiday parties at a president’s home…

The credit card crackdown followed a joint investigation by the Better Government Association and WFLD-Channel 32 news that uncovered alleged credit card abuses at the CHA and the Park District…

The investigation…found CHA credit cards were used to buy thousands of dollars worth of flowers, cakes and holiday gifts for employees, a suite at the United Center and to pay fines stemming from red-light camera tickets.

Emanuel condemned the alleged abuses, called a halt to credit card spending and ordered a sweeping audit of agency policies. Jordan subsequently resigned.

Any number of pundits are always predicting the political demise of Rahm Emanuel. They’re always predicting Chicago-style cronyism that existed for decades under traditional machine governance. In truth, no party holds a patent for cronyism – as the recent Bush administration proved. Though the results are always the same. Taxpayers, ordinary citizens are left holding the bag.

Cynic that I am, I’m pleased to see Emanuel cleaning house – at least a little bit – in Chicago. I hope he keeps it up. Maybe, someday – he’ll bring his talents back to the White House and TCB.

Montana man awarded $311,000 damages from bill collectors

An appellate court has affirmed a $311,000 federal jury award to a Laurel man who sued a North Dakota law firm over its debt collection practices.

The case of Timothy McCollough v. Johnson, Rodenburg & Lauinger was argued in Billings in July before a special panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor along with Judges Sidney R. Thomas of Billings and William A. Fletcher of San Francisco heard the case.

Thomas issued the 30-page opinion, in which the court upheld all of the rulings made by the presiding judge, U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn Ostby, and the jury’s verdict.

In April 2009, a jury awarded McCollough $311,000 in damages, finding that JRL had violated the Montana Unfair Trade Practices Act and that its prosecution of McCollough was malicious and an abuse of process. The damages included $250,000 for emotional distress, a statutory maximum of $1,000 for violating the law, and $60,000 in punitive damages, which was the maximum under Montana law.

… McCollough’s attorney, John Heenan noted…”I’m very proud of Tim for hanging in there for as long as he has.”

McCollough said he hoped the case showed debt collectors that “people are going to know they don’t have to take the garbage. They can fight back…”

McCollough had old credit card debts from the 1990s and worked with companies to pay the debts, despite a head injury that left him disabled and on Social Security, which is exempt from collections.

One of the old debts was sold to a collection company, CACV of Colorado, which sued him in Yellowstone County in 2005. Representing himself in the state case, McCollough said the statue of limitations had expired, he had no money and he had been harassed by the credit card company. The case was dismissed.

Two years later, JRL, which has offices in Fargo and Bismarck, sued McCollough for $9,800, which included $6,000 in attorney fees and interest. McCollough fought back a second time, got the case dismissed and then sued JRL for violating debt collection laws.

Good for you, dude. Standing up to creepy usury-hustlers who ignore laws should wrangle a lot more help from state and local governments than folks usually get.

Governments don’t mind helping out bankrupt corporations. It’s just citizens who generally get screwed.

Traveling grifters snag $1 million worth of Apple products

A gang of grifters used thousands of stolen identities and counterfeit credit cards to go on a $1 million shopping spree at Apple stores across the country, prosecutors said.

The traveling band of about two dozen alleged thieves was indicted on conspiracy, grand larceny, identity theft and forgery charges in the whopping take-down after a two-year investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s Cyber Crimes Unit and the Secret Service…

Reputed ring leader Shaheed “Sha” Bilal, 28, who orchestrated the May 2009 to December 2010 conspiracy from jail, was held on $1 million bail, according to court papers.

Prosecutors said the gang bought stolen identities and used Yahoo! email accounts to store, send and receive thousands of stolen credit card numbers. They used a credit card encoding machine to make the fake cards.

Armed with the plastic, they shopped, hitting mostly Apple stores where they snapped up iPods and MacBook laptops, but also gift cards and clothing. They swiped the cards in California, Nevada and Florida, as well as Manhattan and Edison, N.J.

Gil Einhorn, a 26-year-old married Brooklyn dad, was labeled by prosecutors as a “primary fence” who bought the hot electronics.

Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Roper told a judge Einhorn was caught on surveillance tape handing over cash for “large bundles of items believed to be stolen electronic goods.”

Always pleased to see the fence caught along with the street thugs. A great deal of property crime could be brought to a screeching halt with the removal and warehousing of the financial kingpins of the process in some handy dandy slammer.

That the head of the gang was granted the necessary “freedom” to run his racket from prison is another topic guaranteed to piss me off. Perish the thought some sluggo doing time didn’t have free time and access to communications – that allowed him to continue stealing from his cell.

Sweden weighs benefits of ditching cash

In many countries, debit and credit cards are steadily taking the place of cash in everyday transactions. In Sweden, the process has been given new momentum by a campaign to cut crime…

The campaign has some high-profile supporters, including former Abba band member Bjorn Ulvaeus.

There are no direct practical reasons, as far as I can see, to have coins and banknotes,” he wrote in a recent blog post…

He said that it was “patronising” to assume that the elderly, for example, would have problems paying for goods or services over the internet or with a card.

“There are, of course, those who need help, but if as a result they run less of a risk of being robbed, then perhaps it would be worth the inconvenience,” he wrote.

Buses in Stockholm have already gone cash-free. Strips of tickets or sim-based bus cards can be bought in advance, or payments can be made via mobile phones. After a series of attacks against bus drivers, Sweden’s health and safety authority stepped in and told the bus companies they had to find a way of protecting the cash more securely. The result was that buses stopped accepting notes or coins.

“All indications are that there have been a lot fewer problems on the buses. The drivers are very happy with the situation,” says Bernt Nilsson of the Swedish Work Environment Authority.

The Swedish central bank takes no position in this debate. But in a speech earlier this year, the bank’s deputy governor Lars Nyberg highlighted the higher cost to society of cash transactions, compared with those made with credit or debit cards.

Citing a survey from 2002 he said: “It is much more likely that the costs of using cash have increased rather than decreased. For example, the costs for increasing the security of transportation and ATMs have been substantial…”

Sweden’s version of Ron Paul/Tea Party libertarians oppose the idea. Cash preserves privacy, anonymity. They worry about little electronic footprints trailing around behind you wherever you go.