Financial Crime detectives say new powers to arrest and charge people in possession of fake credit cards will help them stop scam artists at the border.
Government amended the Penal Code during the last session of the Legislative Assembly in March to create the new crime of “possession of articles for use to defraud.”
The move follows a series of crimes involving tourists who have arrived in Cayman with cloned cards intending to rip off banks, or in some cases with secret camera equipment to steal PIN numbers from ATM users.
Detective Sergeant Orville Williams said the legislation would allow customs agents to detain people at the border if such materials, which can include stacks of reprogrammed gift cards, were found in their luggage.
Until now, he said, police have had to wait for the scammers to strike before they can act.
DS Williams said the Cayman Islands was a target because it does not have the “chip and pin” security system on its cards and because the strong economy means fraudsters can get more money from cash machines here.
A standard scam typically involves using computer software to reprogram retail store gift cards with data stolen from people’s credit or debit cards elsewhere.
He said con-artists have arrived in Grand Cayman with stacks of 50 or 60 gift cards, which they then use to take money from ATMs.
“Customs officers now have the right to question them, if they see anything suspicious,” said DS Williams. “If someone arrives with a huge stack of gift cards they can let us know and we can check that out. If they have skimming machines or cameras in their luggage, they can be arrested and charged.”
The law carries penalties of up to seven years imprisonment. It also creates a separate offense of making or supplying articles for use to defraud, which carries a maximum jail term of ten years in prison.
In one case last year, a visitor from eastern Europe fitted a secret camera to an ATM machine.
He was tracked through CCTV images, but initially denied the offense, claiming it was not him on the grainy camera footage.
Detective Williams said police were able to use images from his own camera, which clearly showed his face in high definition, and he reversed his plea.
In another case last year officers confiscated 68 reprogrammed gift cards from a Bulgarian visitor as well as nearly $3,000 cash in the lining of his suitcase.
A different case involved a gang of visitors from Romania who made nearly 400 ATM withdrawals using the same method, successfully stealing more than $16,000 before they were caught.
Anhill Carsana, a computer forensics examiner with the police, said the tough sentences handed down in those cases should serve as a deterrent to criminal gangs targeting the islands.
“The financial industry is one of our main pillars. We can’t have these guys coming in and doing what they want,” said DS Williams. “The new law was an extra tool to help police fight this type of crime.”
“As it was before, you had to wait for them to commit an offence before you could do anything. Now we can get them at the border before they do anything.”
Introducing the amendment in the LA last month, Attorney General Sam Bulgin, said the crime had become a major problem in recent years, with a “number of foreign nationals convicted.”
He cited Romanians and Bulgarians among them and indicated government had put additional visa restrictions in place against some of those countries.
During the debate, East End legislator Arden McLean called for much tougher action saying Romanians should be banned from the country as a result of credit card fraud by some of its citizens.
“If we see the Romanians are the ones doing it, put them on the prohibited country list. Let them stay over there.
“Keep your people home and we will stay out of your way and you out of ours.“Everyone is putting up walls and we can’t put one provision in one law?”
“We can put up walls too – might not be physical ones like our good friends to the north, but this is our country. We need to protect it.”
The Financial Crime Unit indicates that visitors have come from multiple countries, including Bulgaria, Romania and Malaysia, to commit credit card fraud in the Cayman Islands.
DS Williams said it was a global phenomenon that had affected countries across the world for years and was now beginning to become more common in the Caribbean.