CLEARWATER — Four men encoded debit cards with fraudulent account information and used them to buy food and cigarettes, Clearwater police said Tuesday.
Julio A. Fregel, 41; Juan Lizano, 33; Abel Barrero, 34, and Leiry Borges, 31, were arrested Monday, each on a felony charge of scheme to defraud.
"What they're doing is they're taking these gift cards, or Visa debit cards, which are pretty much already used, and they're encoding them with different numbers," Clearwater police spokeswoman Beth Watts said.
According to Clearwater police, the men went to a Hess station at 2577 Harn Blvd. about 10:30 a.m. Monday and tried to use a Visa gift debit card to make purchases, but ran off when a store clerk became suspicious.
"That's where they got caught," Watts said. "We had a clerk who was on her toes and recognized the numbers on the card and the receipt didn't match."
When the clerk began questioning the men, they left without the merchandise. The clerk called police and gave a description of the men's vehicle, a 2002 GMC Denali.
A short time later, a Clearwater police officer pulled over the Denali near Belcher Road and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. Inside, police found a cooler containing 20 cartons of cigarettes.
Police also found four more counterfeit cards that had been used at other locations throughout the state, arrest reports show.
Police seized the Denali.
On Tuesday, police say they found about 50 more cards near the area where they had stopped the men. "Like they tossed them from the vehicle," Watts said.
The investigation is ongoing and it's possible other victims will be found. "At this point, we're just trying to find out how far this actually spans," Watts said.
As of Tuesday evening Fregel, Lizano and Barrero were being held in the Pinellas County jail on $5,000 bail.
Borges, who also goes by the name Leivy Borges, was also charged with possession of a counterfeit driver's license. He is being held on $7,000 bail.
According to arrest reports, Lizano is from Naples. The other men have addresses in Hialeah.