An arrest in Centre County might be stopping future crimes elsewhere.
According to Pattown Township police, Phil Nguyen, 67, of Garden Grove, Calif., entered Kranich’s Jewelers on North Atherton Street on Sunday to buy a $12,000 luxury Rolex watch. He had shopped for it in the store on Friday, telling staff he wanted to finance the purchase.
Two days later, he returned to finish the transaction, not knowing that Patton Township police had already been alerted that the identification he presented as part of the application process was false.
President Charles Kranich said Nguyen’s arrest is just part of a larger ring.
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According to the Jewelers’ Security Alliance, a New York-based organization, the scam has been going on for months. Newsletters have detailed warnings since April, cautioning retailers about a “gang of Asian suspects” who follow the same routine: enter a store, spend about 45 minutes or more leisurely shopping and apply for store credit. Once approved, a big-ticket watch is purchased.
Later, when the fake identification is sorted out by the credit company, the sale is charged back to the store and the watch is long gone.
“Rolex jewelers tend to be a particular target. This is because a Rolex watch holds its value quite well and is very marketable after a theft,” Kranich said.
“This gang did considerably more than $1 million in fraudulent credit transactions, and probably closer to $2 million, spread over dozens of transactions,” JSA President John Kennedy said. “It can be a serious problem for a small retail jeweler to get a $10,000 or even a $20,000 charge back on a credit transaction, as some of these victims experienced. For a small retail jeweler, these are large transactions and represent a big loss.”
JSA sent out updates on the ongoing scam May 2, July 9 and July 16, just two days before Nguyen walked into Kranich’s.
“We have been extremely diligent in training our staff to avoid fraud and theft. Their training certainly paid off in this particular case,” Kranich said. “In the days before our people calling the police, the suspect visited multiple stores in the Pittsburgh area. We have received calls from various top jewelers in Pennsylvania thanking us for helping to catch a guy who (successfully or not) tried to rob them.”
Kranich said the impact is not related simply to small businesses.
“Essentially, this fraud impacts all businesses and consumers. Wells Fargo finance was particularly pleased with the capture of the person at our store,” he said.
Nguyen remains in Centre County Correctional Facility, facing felony charges of identity theft, forgery and theft by deception, and misdemeanor charges of possessing a counterfeit access device.
Bail was set at $100,000 monetary.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled for July 30.