Identity theft: Warren County case example of growing national problem

A sheriff’s deputy’s observation of a car with Pennsylvania plates parked illegally in a handicapped spot in suburban Warren County resulted in identity theft and other charges being filed against three Atlanta-area residents.

The suspects reportedly told police they had been “coming and going” between Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois and Georgia.

The suspects, two with extensive criminal records and subjects of “nationwide full extradition warrants,” were found with more than 100 gift cards, other people’s driver’s licenses and bank cards and a device used to skim credit-card information, according to Warren County Sheriff’s Office reports.

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Agents of the U.S. Secret Service, part of a nationwide effort to combat this growing problem, helped local investigators build their case, involving one credit/debit card reported stolen in 2017, according to authorities.

During the second quarter of 2019 alone, more than 165,000 cases of identity theft were reported across the nation, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

People reported losing $1.48 billion to frauds, including identity theft, last year – an increase of 38 percent over 2017, according to the FTC.

Through 46 Financial Crimes Task Forces around the country, the Secret Service, in concert with other law enforcement, tracks identity thieves and tries to block the use of other people’s identities in financial and other crimes.

On Aug. 19, four days after the arrests in the Meijer parking lot in suburban Warren County, two Secret Service Special Agents reviewed evidence in the case and identified 19 cards “recoded with credit card information,” according to the sheriff’s office reports.

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Warren County Sheriff’s Deputy Phillip Green broke the case when he noticed a Jeep pull across from a handicapped spot into another space in the parking lot of the Meijer store in Landen, a Northern Cincinnati suburb, at 1:23 p.m., Aug. 15, according to his report.

Antonio Cantrell, 28, of Atlanta, and Menyon Williams, 22, of Ellenwood, Ga., were in front seat. Neither was able to produce anything permitting them to use a handicapped space.

“I could smell the odor of marijuana coming from inside the vehicle,” Green said in the report.

Laferriyona Mathis, 25, of Forest Park, Ga., came out of the store and told Green the car was a rental and Cantrell her brother.

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“I asked Laferriyona what her brother’s name was and she said she did not know,” Green said in the report. “Laferriyona said she only knows him by a street name.”

Deputy Chet Tewmey arrived and it was determined Williams was the subject of nationwide extradition warrants for rape and fraud, according to reports.

In addition, a records check showed Williams’ “history of” fraud, misuse of credit cards, identity fraud, identity theft and, stolen credit cards, according to incident reports.

Cantrell and Williams both reportedly provided false information, but were ultimately identified during the arrest.

“Antonio was also found to have a nationwide full extradition warrant out of Georgia for drug charges,” Green said in his report.

Mathis said she had arrived in the area the night before and stayed in a Quality Inn but provided no “specific reason” for coming to the area.

At this point in his report, Green indicated he suspected the trio was involved in credit card-gift card fraud and theft.

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“These offenses are known to take place from out-of-state subjects, driving rental cars and traveling from state to state visiting stores,” Green said in his report.

Inside the car, deputies reported finding a black bag on the driver’s seat with 22 Mastercard-Visa gift cards, the sealed packaging torn, revealing bar code and backside information making it accessible for skimming for reuse.

On the front passenger floorboard, the deputies found a New York Yankees bag with 31 Mastercard-Visa gift cards and Williams’ wallet containing two hotel room keys, the debit card reportedly missing since 2017, two other people’s Georgia driver’s licenses and four bank cards.

Also on the floorboard was the device used to skim and load credit-card info onto magnetic strips, according to the reports.

“Inside the passenger side glove box were dozens more gift cards which were opened,” Green’s report said.

“Also scattered about the front and rear of the vehicle were additional gift cards.”

Mathis denied knowledge of the credit card, gift cards or skimmer, according to the incident reports.

During the arrest, a Meijer security employee provided surveillance video that showed Mathis was in the store with “a shopping cart with gift cards in it but left it in the store and walked outside,” about the same time Green began questioning Cantrell and Williams.

Another surveillance video showed Cantrell in a Kentucky Meijer store purchasing gift cards earlier that day, according to the report.

Mathis was allowed to use the restroom, after emptying her purse in the parking lot. The next day, store security found two credit cards, one “had Laferriyona’s full name on it” in a store restroom toilet “shortly after Laferriyona used the restroom,” according to incident reports.

Mathis was allowed to leave, while Cantrell and Williams were arrested and taken to the county jail in Lebanon, according to the incident, court and jail records.

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Further investigation determined the debit card reportedly missing since 2017 had been used to purchase $3,000 in gift cards and the card was to be deactivated.

Tewmey contacted police in Forest Park, Ga., an Atlanta suburb, where both the debit card owner and Mathis lived at the same address, according to reports.

The owner said he lost the card in 2017 and knew none of the suspects in the Ohio parking lot incident, Tewmey reported.

Search warrants and a warrant for Mathis’s arrest were issued. She had not been arrested on Friday.

Cantrell was charged with identity fraud, possession of criminal tools and parking in handicapped spot on Aug. 15 in Mason Municipal Court. Williams was held for extradition.

Cantrell, Williams and Mathis were indicted.

Cantrell and Williams were arraigned Wednesday on charges of taking the identity of another, possession of criminal tools, misuse of credit cards and obstructing official business. Magistrate Andrew Hasselbach set bond at $20,000 cash and issued a no contact order.

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Both remained in the jail in Lebanon on Friday, according to jail records.

Mathis is scheduled for arraignment on Oct. 4 on charging of taking the identity of another, possession of criminal tools, misuse of credit cards and obstructing official business.

“Typically what happens is that these individuals will obtain credit card information using skimmers. They then load that information onto gift cards or any other card that has a magnetic strip,” Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said in responses to questions.

“Indeed, you could load credit card information onto a hotel room key if you wanted to. Then they use it just like it’s a credit card,” Fornshell explained.

“This type of activity is a huge issue nationwide,” he added.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Section has a special unit “to help victims of identity theft rectify the effects of identity theft by working with credit reporting agencies, creditors, collectors, and any other entity who may have information that was obtained under fraudulent circumstances and by providing the necessary information to victims of identity theft to remedy the effects themselves,” according to the AG’s web site.

The office also provides an advocate to victims.

Clues That Someone Has Stolen Your Identity:

You see withdrawals from your bank account that you can’t explain.

You don’t get your bills or other mail.

Merchants refuse your checks.

Debt collectors call you about debts that aren’t yours.

You find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report.

Medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use.

Your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claim because the records show you’ve reached your benefits limit.

A health plan won’t cover you because your medical records show a condition you don’t have.

The IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer you don’t work for.

You get notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account.

Source: Federal Trade Commission

What To Do When Your Identity Is Stolen is the federal government's one-stop resource for identity theft victims. The site provides streamlined checklists and sample letters to guide you through the recovery process.

The Ohio Attorney General's Office also has information and services on identity theft. Visit the website or call 800-282-0515.

What Do Thieves Do With Your Information?

Once identity thieves have your personal information, they can drain your bank account, run up charges on your credit cards, open new utility accounts, or get medical treatment on your health insurance. An identity thief can file a tax refund in your name and get your refund. In some extreme cases, a thief might even give your name to the police during an arrest.

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