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Two men charged with using "skimmer" to clone diners' credit cards
David B. Caruso, The Associated Press 2003-06-06

Prosecutors allege two men copied credit cards by using a hand-held device they affectionately nicknamed "the mojo" to read the magnetic strips of cards that diners used to pay their bills.

Prosecutors said investigators at American Express uncovered the scheme when they noticed that several customers complaining about mysterious charges had all dined at either of two Philadelphia restaurants where one suspect worked as a waiter.

Anis Kalthoumi and Faker Bensalem were charged this week with credit card fraud and other counts and arraigned in federal court Friday.

Prosecutors said Kalthoumi, the waiter, used a beeper-sized "skimmer" to extract information from the cards of people dining at the Bistro Saint Tropez and the Old Philadelphia Tavern. Bensalem is accused of downloading the data to a machine capable of making counterfeit cards, and using them to make purchases in other states.

Fraud with credit-card cloning devices is increasingly common, authorities said. Card readers and writers can be purchased legally for a few hundred dollars over the Internet.

Agents identified at least 13 victims and about $60,000 in purchases, but there may be more. Prosecutors said Kalthoumi has cooperated in the probe since his arrest Tuesday and claims he made at least 100 "good skims."

Bensalem was arrested outside his Warminster home Thursday, and ordered held pending a bail hearing. Kalthoumi, of Southampton, was released on $50,000 bond on the condition he wear an electronic monitor.

Kalthoumi's lawyer, Paul Holl, did not immediately return a phone call Friday. The federal defender's office in Philadelphia, assigned to represent Bensalem, declined to comment on the case.

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