by: Kathryn Burcham Updated:
WAXHAW, N.C. - Waxhaw police have arrested three people and are looking for two more in connection with a multistate, sophisticated identity theft scam.
Police said Edward Zerweck masterminded the plot to steal credit card information from small business owners in the southeast region and then used the credit card numbers to purchase thousands of dollars in goods and services.
"It's pretty slick," admitted Detective Bobby Haulk. "He's a con man. Mr. Zerweck has apparently been doing this for years."
Investigators in Waxhaw said they caught the case when one of Zerwecks' co-conspirators, Robert Stevenson, was caught picking up $1,500 worth of lawn equipment at Ace Hardware in Waxhaw that was purchased with an American Express card previously reported to be stolen.
"(Zerweck) bought the merchandise by phone and had people going to pick it up," Haulk said.
When detectives contacted the victim, they learned he had provided his credit card information to employees from a company called Select Publishing. The victim told police the publishing business contacted him, asking him to purchase advertisements in a lifestyle magazine called Country Club Lifestyle, according to authorities.
Another victim, Gene Seibert, told Channel 9 he had given the publishing employees his American Express card information and agreed to pay $300 for an advertisement about his contracting company, which is based outside of Atlanta, Ga.
"My ad was supposed to appear to Page 7 in three magazines to three country club areas that are here in Atlanta," Seibert told Eyewitness News in a phone interview.
But police said the magazine didn't exist -- nor did the publishing company. Instead, detectives said, Zerweck had his girlfriend, Tanja Barnette, confirm the false advertisements via email, and once Barnette and Zerweck had the victims' credit card information, they funneled the money through a merchant account to purchase items and goods in Mecklenburg and Union County.
"This one was a little bit more far-reaching than the town of Waxhaw," Haulk said.
Last week, officers arrested Zerweck, Barnette and Stevenson on various criminal charges. Detectives said Zerweck's mother and stepfather have since been indicted by a grand jury for helping Zerweck set up the merchant account he used to purchase the goods and services.
Zerweck will face a judge on April 21.