Why the FBI was notified about cell phones bought in Missouri

13 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

FBI Alerted After ‘Suspicious’ Bulk Purchases of Cellphones at Missouri Walmarts.

The alarm began when two immigrants bought 59 cell phones at once from a Wal-Mart in Lebanon, Mo. on Dec. 5. A series of bulk purchases of cheap, prepaid cellphones at Wal-Mart stores across central and eastern Missouri in the last week prompted multiple local law enforcement offices to notify federal investigators.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Missouri law enforcement officials became suspicious and alerted the FBI after a small number of men bought more than 100 prepaid, disposable cellphones from Wal-Mart stores in three cities in a 24-hour period.Missouri police are investigating after at least 100 cellphones were purchased at three Walmarts during the past week, local FOX and ABC affiliates reported. “It’s not right, it doesn’t make any sense,” a witness, who did not want to be identified, told ABC 17 about a sale in Columbia. “Who’s going to order 50 phones for Christmas? Employees also notified police when someone bought 50 cell phones in Columbia, Mo., and news reports began stacking up, with a total of five cities in Missouri reporting unusual sales of pre-paid cell phones along with thefts of propane tanks in Kansas City, the Associated Press reported. Who does that?” The first reported purchase happened Friday night, when several men bought dozens of phones around 9:30 p.m. at a Columbia Walmart, ABC 17 reported. That’s the question federal and local authorities are asking after about 200 of the phones have been purchased at a half-dozen Wal-Marts in Missouri.

Investigators viewed the purchases as curious because such phones, often called “burners,” can be bought and used anonymously, then discarded in an effort to avoid detection. “There’s no violation of criminal law, as far as we’re aware,” Glover said. “They can go to a retail store and buy as many items as they wish. The Walmart employees, apparently feeling uneasy about the unusual purchase and purchase time, notified authorities, who promptly informed the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

But “we have seen similar purchases of bulk cellphones in the past, and it has been concluded that these transactions were unrelated to terrorism.” Criminals sometimes use prepaid cellphones to avoid surveillance because the devices can make it harder for investigators to link a phone to a particular person. On Thursday, KOMU-TV reported that local authorities received a call about an incident of multiple individual trying to buy several mobile phones from a Walmart. “Right then and there I knew there was not something adding up about this. The separate incidents of large cellphone purchases by Middle Eastern men has also been linked in some reports to propane tanks stolen in Missouri in large quantities.

Prepaid cellphones, popular among international travelers and consumers with poor credit, also are commonly used by drug dealers and gang members because they don’t require personal data be given to the seller or service provider, masking the user’s identity. Police were called and interviewed the men, but did not detain them. “These people were, they were foreign-speaking,” said Laclede County Sheriff Wayne Merritt, who encouraged citizens to call the cops if they observed odd activity. “You need to take notice. The witnesses thought it was suspicious, but didn’t think any more about it until they saw the news headlines about the suspicious phone purchases at other Missouri Walmart locations. The Southeast Missourian of Cape Girardeau reports that on Dec. 4, police in Jackson say four dozen of the cellphones were bought at a Wal-Mart there. Such phones also have been linked to suspected terror activity – including by a man accused of plotting to bomb Times Square in 2010 and using a prepaid phone to communicate with co-conspirators in Pakistan.

But social media users quickly linked the incident to imminent terrorism, and the rumor-investigating website Snopes published an article to fact-check the issue. Local authorities were called to the scene, but didn’t have a valid reason to detain them. “I’m not going to say just because they’re a different religion or because they’re Muslim.

In June, 49 percent of Americans reported they were “very” or at least “somewhat worried” that they or a family member would become a victim of terrorism, according to a Gallup poll. The state’s former homeland security chief says the phones could be used to detonate a bomb, communicate between criminals, or to resell at a profit. “A person would have to believe that doing something like this here, paying cash, and doing it when nobody else is in the store, not a lot of activity going on, that would have to raise some type of a red flag,” Fennewald says. (TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. The same issue is being investigated by Macon Police, where a purchase happened on Saturday, as well as Jackson Police, who are investigating the purchase of 48 prepaid phones on Friday, and Cape Girardieu, where 10 cell phones were purchased, according to KFVS. The incidents come at a jittery time in the wake of the recent mass killing in San Bernardino, Calif., by a couple apparently inspired by the Islamic State.

Further to the mobile phone scare, agents are now drawing a connection to the disappearance of dozens of tanks of highly flammable propane gas around locations in Missouri. Who does that?” While Americans are on alert, retired FBI agent Jeff Lanza told the Kansas City Star, that these bulk cell phone purchases are not likely to involve terrorists. “If you were planning to use those in a terrorist act, you wouldn’t be buying in bulk and attracting attention to yourself,” he told the Kansas City Star. “It would be a stupid way to start buying things to be used as bomb detonators because the first thing people do is call the police.”

The good news is this is probably not part of terrorist planning for a number of reasons,” he told Fox 4. “One is they wouldn’t steal these items because they know that would attract law enforcement’s attention. Police also checked for outstanding warrants before sending the men on their way, the sheriff said. “I just tell my people not to be tagging people” based on ethnicity “or being suspicious, but to pay attention and give us a call.

But if the police are satisfied with it and don’t seem to be concerned, I’m not concerned.” “These two events are probably totally unrelated,” he said. “If the FBI is not involved in this, then they’re probably not considering there’s any link to terrorism. … Each of those tanks is probably worth 10, 15 bucks, and they’re probably pretty easy to steal.”

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