It's a sophisticated scam, and it's growing: Why police need store owners to help put a stop to it

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Police are issuing a new warning about a sophisticated scam that police say has hit Wisconsin hard. Scammers are using phony credit cards to purchase high-ticket items like cars, motorcycles and power mowers. Police are now calling on store owners to help put a stop to this scam.

The scam involves an unusual form of stealing.

"You get someone coming in - never seen this person before. They usually come in at the close of business when it's busy, and they proceed with the scam," Milwaukee Police Detective Craig Ellis said.

Police say thieves are walking off with expensive items that they seemingly "pay for."

"It's growing. It's in Wisconsin now," Ellis said.

A store that sells lawn mowers on Milwaukee's south side has been targeted by scammers, as was a motorcycle dealership on the city's northwest side.

The key to this scam: phony credit cards.

"Some cards are manufactured. Some cards they change the magnetic strip on it. Some cards are expired," Ellis said.

The credit card terminal at the store rejects the card -- but when the merchant calls the number listed on the back of the card to find out what's wrong, a suspect answers the phone and authorizes the purchase.

"The crooks know to get these transactions through -- to basically bypass the security measures that are in place by the financial institutions," Ellis said.

Police say numerous groups are perpetuating this scam in the Milwaukee area. Police are working to make arrests, but they're asking store owners for help in putting a stop to this scam.

"The merchants have to work with their financial institutions and whoever is their third-party processor that handles their terminals for them and follow the security procedures in place," Ellis said.

Police say a tell-tale red flag is a customer looking to put an expensive item on a credit card fast -- without a lot of shopping or questions. Police say in this scam, a suspect walks into a store, and within minutes, they're looking to put an expensive item on a charge card.

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