Make that 1,002 uses for aluminum foil. Crooks have discovered that the everyday household product can thwart the satellite communications system that enables the modern credit-card economy.
At least three times since the weekend, thieves have used the low-tech scam to victimize businesses in Kansas City and police want to spread the word.
“It seems so simple,” said Sgt. Rob Rickett of the Kansas City police fraud section, which is learning about the scam that has popped up elsewhere in recent years, including Cincinnati and Jupiter, Fla.
“This is the first time it’s really come to our attention here,” Rickett said.
Many businesses use satellite dishes to transmit credit card information to card companies, banks or processing centers. The companies then warn the businesses if they detect something wrong. The satellite dishes often are on the roofs of the businesses.
Simply placing a sheet of aluminum foil over the dish blocks the uplink.
“In essence, this allows thieves with counterfeit, maxed-out or stolen cards to have a completely open line of credit to purchase as much as they want,” police said in an advisory issued Monday.
Rickett said businesses may not discover until later that they have been victimized.
At least three Kansas City businesses — in the 8700 block of Northwest 112th Street, the 2100 block of East 39th Street and the 6200 block of St. John Avenue — have been hit since Saturday.
Police said the businesses eventually discovered that satellite transmitters on their roofs had been covered with foil.
It is not clear how much the businesses lost, but in the case of the St. John theft, the thief used a fraudulent credit card to buy $1,665 worth of cigarettes, police said.
The thieves may be targeting neighborhood businesses because big-box stores, with their higher sales volume, are more likely to discover something amiss sooner, Rickett said.
Kansas City police detained three suspects Saturday after they returned to one of the businesses and tried to use a bad card a second time. A store employee described their vehicle to police.
Rickett said the suspects were not immediately charged because investigators are still building a case.
Police said business owners who rely on satellite dishes may want to check their dishes to make sure they are not covered in foil. Businesses that transmit credit-card information in batches periodically throughout the day might also want to increase the frequency so they can detect problems sooner.
Police released photos of satellite dishes covered in foil from another city so that local businesses will know what to look for. Businesses owners or employees should call 911 if they suspect something. They should not remove the foil before police can process the crime scene.