Two men charged in identity theft scheme

Charges recently filed in Outagamie County Court highlight the importance of keeping a close eye on personal bank activity.

Police say two men were able to steal more than $10,000 from accounts in February after creating duplicate debit cards from stolen identification numbers.

Capt. Todd Freeman of the Appleton Police Department said those who lose checks and debit and credit cards aren’t the only ones in danger of fraud. In some cases, like this, victims still had their cards in their possession.

“If you talk to legitimate identity theft victims, they’ll tell you how it turned their lives upside-down,” Freeman said.

Christopher B. Trotter, 32, of South Holland, Ill. was charged on Monday with three counts of fraud against a financial institution, 11 counts of conspiracy to commit fraud and 21 counts of identity theft. Those charges were in addition to two fraud counts filed on March 2 related to the same scheme.

Elston D. Howard, 32, of Miami Gardens, Fla., was charged March 2 with three counts of identity theft, three counts of fraud and one count of organizing financial crimes.

An investigation began on Feb. 4 when an Appleton resident reported several charges to his account that he didn’t make. He still had his debit card, and hadn’t lost it at any point. Police continued to receive complaints from other victims.

On Feb. 26, a convenience store clerk called police to report a customer who matched a description distributed in connection to the frauds. The clerk provided a license plate number and officers found the vehicle at a Grand Chute hotel.

Police searched the hotel room rented by Trotter and Howard and seized items including a computer, a magnetic card reader and two pieces of paper containing bank identification numbers from 14 financial institutions. They also found a bag of 50 cartons of cigarettes, the criminal complaint says.

The criminal complaint didn’t provide information on how the men obtained the identifcation numbers.

Freeman said technologies exist that give criminals the ability to copy data during routine credit card purchases or withdrawals at an ATM.

To reduce chances of identity theft, people can limit their number of open accounts and stop unsolicited credit card offers.

Freeman said it’s vital for residents to monitor their checking and credit card transactions at least on a monthly basis.

“It really has to become part of your routine,” Freeman said.

— Jim Collar: 920-993-1000, ext. 216, or jcollar@postcrescent.com; on Twitter @JimCollar

Article source: http://www.postcrescent.com/story/news/local/2015/03/10/two-men-charged-identity-theft-scheme/24724083/

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