By A.J. ALGIER
Sun Staff Writer
WESTERLY — Police say a 44-year-old Norwich woman has been charged with felony credit theft in a skimming scam linked to at least 34 incidents at the China Buffet restaurant.
In the first arrest in the case, police charged Shao Ting Zhu on Monday with fraudulently obtaining a credit card, a felony, and two counts of fraudulently using a credit card as they continue the investigation they started in November.
Police Chief Edward St. Clair said the arrest is part of an ongoing investigation as detectives continue to receive calls from credit card holders who have had their numbers stolen and new cards created or have had their numbers used to purchase items which then appear on their credit card statements. Local bank officials have confirmed for police that the victims’ cards had been used at China Buffet.
In the most recent case, Zhu attempted to use allegedly fraudulent cards at Walmart in Westerly, according to police. The woman was captured on surveillance video purchasing hundreds of dollars worth of merchandise, police said.
Other Walmart stores were apparently being targeted by those suspected to be part of the same group that skimmed the credit cards of China Buffet patrons, police said.
Last month, a number of China Buffet diners reported that their card numbers had been compromised, although they still had possession of their cards.
Police said a skimming device was used to copy the numbers from the cards. The numbers then were used to create new cards or to make purchases online. Wireless skimmer devices can fit into the palm of one’s hand, Police Det. Michael Lamb said. It appeared the card numbers were skimmed using a device that plugs into a phone, or copied in some other way, he said.
Often, Lamb said, fraudulent cards will be used to purchase untraceable money cards. In the case of the local Walmart, goods such as iPhones were purchased.
Police seized China Buffet’s computers, charge card machines and cash registers last month.
The restaurant remains open and the owners have not been charged. Zhu was not an employee of the restaurant, said St.Clair.
Zhu will be arraigned in 4th Division District Court in Wakefield on Jan. 3, before her case is transferred to Superior Court for a felony pre-trial conference.