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Friday, March 8, 2024

Hey, Jim…what’s in your wallet?

MAGA faithful lose millions to fake Trump debit cards from North Macedonia

By Lincoln green

Not everyone who helps con the MAGA faithful is named Trump. In “Made In Macedonia: Americans Lose Millions Buying Fake Donald Trump Debit Cards”, investigative reporters Milos Katic, Mirjana Jevtovic, Biljana Nikolovska, Jelena Jankovic and Natalija Jovanovic reported this week in RFE/RL that MAGA marks are repeatedly conned by organized fraudsters using Telegram encrypted channels, deepfake videos, networks of fake “commercial” websites, anonymized credit card processors, and a foreign-owned payment platform operating in Florida.

The RFE/RL report leads with 86-year-old Ann Bratton, a Tennessee retiree who spent $6,000 on “Trump cards” — fake debit cards with a total “registered value” of $4 million — under the theory that she could live comfortably on the $5,000 per day each of these “Trump cards” would let her withdraw from  Nashville-area ATMs.

Needless to say, the cards did not work — so Bratton naively spent more money trying to get them to work. The reporters write:

She ordered her cards in late September 2023 and received the first one by mail by early October.

“I have been through a nightmare for the last year,” Bratton told RFE/RL. “Counting all the people I have worked with during this time, I have spent well over $30,000 just for cash-out.”

The reporters dug into Bratton’s cards, and found that they originated in Veles, North Macedonia, a known hub of fraudsters who apparently specialize in MAGA fleecing. 

The fake debit cards are marketed via deepfake images and videos on Telegram with pointers to websites registered by a Reykjavik, Iceland company named “Withheld for Privacy”; and these websites’ payment platform is Copecart, a German company with a US branch that since January 2022 has been licensed to operate in Florida.

So, what’s being done about this? Nothing. Let us count the ways:

Although Veles’s mayor indicated that it’s widely known that fraudsters are based in his city, he asserted that there’s not enough evidence to go after them. 

The fraudsters likely started out as purveyors of fake news to the MAGA movement; see Samanth Subramanian’s 2017 Wired piece “Inside the Macedonian Fake-News Complex”, which says that in 2016 North Macedonians fakesters also targeted Bernie Sanders supporters but gave up because the Sanders supporters were too smart.

 “Withheld for Privacy” is apparently an outpost of Namecheap, a US domain registrar. The outpost has no staff in Iceland, and is being investigated by Icelandic police. By the way, Namecheap recently announced AI tools that should make it easier for fraudsters to target victims more precisely.

Although a Copecart representative said “If there is any fraud, they should first get [the] vendor, they can get to us, or their bank”, the representative refused to say whether Copecart had reported any cases to the authorities. 

I found a set of Trustpilot reviews for Copecart that included several Trump-related games, including this one for an October 2023 purchase: “Roped me in on Telegram by posing as Trump or his affiliates. Invest in Trump coins, backed by Trump himself, get a great return when you cash them in with Bank of America. Guaranteed money back. Would not respond to emails, when they finally did, would not do a return.” Surprise, surprise.

Neither the FBI or the FTC have acted publicly on this major fraud.

Neither Trump nor his entourage have warned the MAGA faithful that they’re being conned.

It is unknown whether Trump or his entourage participate in this particular con.