Second Harford credit card skimming schemer pleads guilty

A second person charged in connection with a credit card skimming scheme that operated in Harford County pleaded guilty to mail fraud in U.S. District Court in Baltimore Friday.

Tri Tran, also known as "Tony," 35, a citizen of Vietnam unlawfully in the country and living in Maryland, skimmed credit card account data and re-encoded onto different credit cards used to buy merchandise at retail stores, according to the statement of facts in his plea agreement that was entered into court Friday.

As a result of the scheme, more than 50 victims incurred losses totaling more than $70,000, according to U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein, who announced the plea.

According to the statement of facts in Tran's plea agreement, beginning in 2009 through February 28, 2011, co-conspirator Nghia Nguyen, a Vietnamese citizen residing in Santa Ana, Calif., mailed an electronic skimming device to Tran in Maryland. Tran then used the device at the business where he was employed to access data from customer credit cards.

Neither prosecutors nor Harford County law enforcement officers have said where the illegal activities took place, beyond acknowledging that Tran was working in Harford.

During 2009, Tran mailed Nguyen the skimming device approximately twice a month, typically when the data of five to 15 credit cards was stored on the skimmer, the statement of facts continues. This pace picked up slightly in 2010, and in 2011 there were about four to five exchanges prior to his arrest, according to the plea agreement. Tran would also mail several credit cards bearing his name to Nguyen.

Nguyen would then extract the data from the skimmer and re-encode the magnetic strip of the other cards with the victims' data. Nguyen would then send Tran three or four re-encoded cards in return, and Tran would use these cards, typically for one or two transactions at about $200 per transaction before the accounts were shut down. This process was repeated several times over the course of the scheme, prosecutors said.

On Jan. 14, 2011, the Harford County Sheriff's Office began investigating a complaint related to credit card skimming activity at the retail location where Tran worked, according to the statement of facts. Tran's residence was searched on Feb. 28, 2011. Computer equipment and peripheral devices used in the creation of the fraudulent credit cards were seized.

According to Maryland electronic court records, Tran was originally charged with several counts of theft and credit card misuse in Harford County District Court. Those charges were dropped when the federal investigators and prosecutors got involved. Tran's address on the District Court records is listed as the 1900 block of Grinnalds Avenue in Southwest Baltimore.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Tran faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for mail fraud. U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar has scheduled sentencing for May 24.

Tran's co-conspirator, Nghia Nguyen, 35, previously pleaded guilty to his participation in the scheme and was sentenced on Dec. 17, 2012 to six years in federal prison.

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