PHOENIX (Reuters) - A controversial Arizona lawman, who styles himself "America's Toughest Sheriff" for his relentless pursuit of criminals, said on Tuesday that he has himself become a victim of credit card fraud.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said his credit card information had been used to buy $291 in groceries in Chicago - a city he said he had not visited in years.
A controversial figure for housing county detainees in a Spartan "Tent City" jail and for sweeps targeting illegal immigrants across metro Phoenix, Arpaio said fraudsters used his Discover card last week to shop at a Jewel supermarket in the city.
"I haven't been to Chicago since I was a young federal narcotics agent in 1957 ... so I sure couldn't have been buying groceries in that supermarket," Arpaio told Reuters, adding: "This seems to be a widespread problem across our nation."
He said he was alerted to the scam by Discover, and that no arrests had been made.
Bank card fraud is on the rise worldwide. One international study published last year found more than a quarter of consumers reported having been hit by scammers in the previous five years.
Local CBS affiliate KPHO Phoenix reported Arpaio would consider not pressing charges if the perpetrator was struggling, although he said later he had concluded that an organized gang was likely responsible.
"I was just saying 'Jesus, some poor guy in Chicago stole my card number and he had to feed his kids and they had no food' ... but no, this was like an organized effort and whoever's doing this should go to jail for 100 years," he said.
Arpaio was swept to a sixth term in office in November by supporters of his hardline stance on crime and illegal immigration in the Phoenix area. He is also fighting lawsuits from the government and Hispanic drivers who accuse him of civil rights violations and racial profiling, which he denies.
(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; editing by Cynthia Johnston and Christopher Wilson)