It's the perfect opportunity for an ambitious, energetic, quick-thinking young man.

In the $500-million-a-year credit-card-fraud industry, there are probably as many types of scams as there are fine-print exclusions to the cards' bonus rewards programs. In recent years, as anti-fraud measures have grown more sophisticated, so have the methods of the scammers.

Gabler liked to keep things simple and fast. No elaborate construction of false identities by digging through dumpsters for personal information, no phishing online for PIN codes and all that crap. No, better to prowl a parking lot for wallets left in cars by begging-to-be-robbed doofuses and head for the mall with the real thing — two, four, maybe even half a dozen cards, usually with limits of $25,000 or more each.

Vic Gabler in one of many police photos taken over the years.
Vic Gabler in one of many police photos taken over the years.

Better yet, get somebody else in the crew to do the car-hopping and shopping while you take care of the disposal of the merchandise. That way your face doesn't end up on any surveillance videos.

A thief has a narrow window of time to max out the card before its absence is discovered and the cardholder notifies the company. Gabler took an audacious route to buying more time. After a wild night of shopping, he'd call the doofus, identify himself as an investigator from "Card Services" and inform the victim that his crack team had detected unusual activity on the card.

Doofus: "Ohmygod, ohmygod, my wallet is...gone!"

Don't worry, Gabler would calmly reply. Card Services is on the case. The account has already been canceled. We'll be back in touch.

Back in this golden age of credit-card scamming, when laptops cost two grand or more, Gabler would buy ten or so of the same model with the same card before hitting the card limit. He'd take out an ad in the newspaper offering a single, brand-new laptop for the bargain price of $1,200; the ad would run until all the laptops had been sold.

By 1999, Gabler is pulling down boatloads of cash from such scams. He spends a lot of it on a richly furnished apartment and gifts for Allison, his new girlfriend. But he keeps getting derailed by old charges from Colorado and new ones in Arizona, some of them connected with his penchant for drinking and high-speed chases with the law. While sitting in the Adams County jail on an old beef, he finds out Allison is pregnant.

He goes back to Arizona and spends six months in jail on an obstruction-of-justice charge, a convoluted case involving a buddy and a witness who might or might not have been told to keep quiet about a robbery at the Tucson Mall. He uses the downtime to take classes on alcohol abuse and anger management and whatever else he can find, and vows to go legit for the sake of his baby daughter. He gets out and lands a straight job at Dillard's.

"I'm really doing my best," he says. "We are on shoestring money, and Christmas is coming around, but you don't have to have much for a kid who's a year and a half."

But while shopping in the crush at the mall, Gabler spies a wallet stuffed with credit cards that somebody left just sitting on a counter, where anybody could help themselves. After a few seconds' deliberation, he decides this is not temptation but Christmas coming early and often. Everybody gets fancy gifts, and Gabler feels on top of the world again. "Imagine," he says, "going to the store every day and being able to get anything you want for free."

Except, of course, it isn't free. Christmas 2000 rolls around, and Gabler quits Dillard's for a high-paying job as an RV salesman that fails to materialize, and he and Allison have a huge blowup over that and his crimes and the constant threat of arrest and prison. Allison leaves him, and he's off and running again, ­­pulling scams, loading up an apartment with stuff for a daughter he rarely sees.

2001, 2002, 2003: On another expedition to the mall, Gabler uses a stolen credit card to purchase some expensive clothes, then rings up a $186 bar tab at Red Robin. He tips generously and leaves. An employee pursues him over a second tab he didn't know he'd started; he thinks it's mall security chasing him over the clothes, and he runs into the parking lot and gets hit by a car. The cops find charge receipts in his bag in a woman's name, and he refuses to give his real name.

More busts follow. He flees Arizona for California, planning to leave the country. His parents convince him to return to Denver. Soon he's car-hopping for wallets in the northern suburbs, buying laptops and converting them to cash. He opens up credit lines under the name of Thomas Ray and passes bad checks at Black Hawk casinos. He's arrested while buying a tanning bed at FlatIron Crossing and lands in the Boulder County jail on fresh fraud charges. As Gabler tells it, things just get more complicated from there.

"These fraud cases are a bitch to prove, and I'm fighting the case," he recalls. "Meanwhile, there's a hotel room in Arapahoe County that's full of shit. The cleaning lady goes in there, and they find a gun and a bulletproof vest that don't even belong to me. But the room is filled with fake ID and Rolex watches and computers. And I'm getting in all kinds of fights in Boulder and not taking medication, and they put me in the hole for 87 days until I agree to take the meds. They give me Zyprexa and Klonopin, and I gain fifty pounds."

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