A new campaign from Royal Gibraltar Police, ‘Operation Stratos’, has warned that UK gangs have been flying to the British Overseas Territory to attempt to scam Main Street shopkeepers out of goods worth thousands of pounds. 

As reported by the Gibraltar Chronicle, it is estimated that over £100,000 worth of items has been stolen from local shops over the past two years, using a particular type of card fraud. 

The scam involves fraudsters from the UK visiting Gibraltar, and pretending to be employees of fake businesses who are purchasing large amounts of luxury goods including jewellery, perfumes, suitcases, and electronic equipment. 

These are expensive purchases and while it may often look like thousands are being spent in a single transaction, the bank cards used are fraudulent – either stolen or bought on the dark web. Retailers that are victims of the ruse never receive the funds, but the fraudsters are still able to head back to the UK with the products, and resell them on behalf of organised crime groups. 

The victims will receive a chargeback letter from the card issuer which notifies them of the fraud, but this doesn’t mean the gang members can be caught – sometimes, it is already too late.

Retailers urged to be alert to ‘card not present’ scams 

Local shopkeepers need to become more aware of this scam, particularly during the Christmas period when the risk is increased. The Economic Crime Unit within the Royal Gibraltar Police is working hard to spread the word about the so-called ‘card not present’ scam.

‘Card not present’ refers to a system whereby merchants take online or telephone sales in the event that there is no card physically available. Rather than a card and a pin number going into a machine, the card number and details are inputted. 

In some cases, the fraudsters go as far as to fake a phone call to their bank, with their accomplice on the other end of the line, talking to the shopkeeper in disguise. They may even distract the shopkeeper in order to hijack the card machine and change the settings to ‘card not present’, resulting in an approved payment.

The advice to shopkeepers? Watch out for multiple cards, declined attempts, non-UK-issued bank cards, and large transactions. Be suspicious of the person coming into your shop to buy 10 pairs of AirPods and five MacBook Airs – any behaviour that isn’t typical of your average client.

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