Eight people have been arrested in Cleveland, Ohio for their involvement in an identity theft ring headed up by a man already behind bars.
Andre Reese, 37; Jeffery McClain, 39; Kevin McBride, 34; Michael Sailes, 51; Edwin Peavy, 52; Daniel Ashford, 37; James L. Wiggins, 47; and Jay Williams, 27, have all pleaded guilty to charges relating to an identity theft ring headed up by Dimorio McDowell, 34, of Atlanta, Ga. McDowell’s current sentence expires in 2014, at which time he will begin serving the 14-year sentence for this case.
Federal prosecutors say McDowell was able to get personal information communicated to him while in prison, including names, addresses and Social Security numbers of credit card holders who were customers at various department stores. He would then contact the stores and add additional users to the accounts, or open new accounts in the person’s name.
McDowell worked with the newly-arrested crew, which used the fraudulent cards to purchase $254,000 in merchandise.
Consumers have to be careful with their credit and debit cards when shopping in public. Make sure to keep your credit card in sight at all times. If a clerk takes your card to swipe it for the purchase, ask him or her to do so in your presence. If they refuse, pay in cash or don’t make the purchase.
Why is this important? Crooked clerks take the card out of your sight in order to not only scan the card for your purchase, but also to run the card through a skimmer, an electronic device that records the information found on the magnetic strip on the back of the card. The information can be collected on the skimmer and later downloaded so that a thief can use it to commit crimes or sell it on the Internet for a profit.
If you are using a debit card for your purchases and are asked to input your PIN number, be aware of your surroundings. Make sure no one is standing too close to you, and cover your hand as you punch in the numbers. Take a good look at the machine also, and make sure hasn’t been tampered with. Crooks can attach skimmers to debit card readers as well.
Does all this seem a bit paranoid? In the eyes of some people, perhaps. But if you want to protect yourself from identity theft, isn’t it better to err on the side of a little paranoia?