Carlton Lewis, 25, was sentenced to almost 6 years in prison for his involvement in a Southeastern identity theft ring.  Lewis was about to receive a doctorate degree from the University of Georgia when he was arrested in Tennessee in March 2011.  Lewis was first charged with a DUI, but federal law enforcement helped build a case for additional charges, including fraud and identity theft after the Troopers found 39 fake credit cards and a skimming device in his car. 

What is a skimmer?

The court documents indicate Lewis orchestrated an elaborate identity theft ring that started in 2009.  As a part of the scheme, Lewis and his cohorts used “skimmers” to obtain credit and debit card numbers from restaurant customers.  The waitresses worked in restaurants all over the Southeastern US and sold the card numbers to Lewis.  After Lewis and his identity theft crew got the card numbers they would use them to make counterfeit cards and purchase goods and gift cards.  The stolen goods were sold for quick cash.

Skimming devices seem to be the device of choice for fraudsters.  Skimmers can be purchased online and come in various sizes, including skimmers that fit in the palm of your hand.  Restaurant patrons are easy targets for palm skimmers for two reasons.  First, at the end of our meal we customarily give our server a credit or debit card for payment.  Second, the server walks out of our sight presumably to run our card through the restaurants terminal.  With a palm skimmer, the restaurant worker can quickly and discreetly run your card through their skimmer.  Victims generally do not learn of the theft until sometime later – sometime as much as 30 days later when they receive their statement in the mail. 

What can you do to protect yourself from skimmers?

  1. Ask to pay for your meal on the way out.  In other words, go to your server, hostess or restaurant manager and ask them to run your card.  When staff has to run your card in front of you it makes it more difficult for thieves to use palm skimmers!
  2. Check your bank and credit card statements regularly.  You don’t have to wait until you receive your monthly statement to find unauthorized charges.  Go online and review your statements regularly, at least weekly!  Look for any unauthorized charges and dispute them immediately with your bank or credit card company.
  3. Review your credit report.  Credit reports can tip you off to identity theft and unauthorized charges.  Some indications that you might be a victim of identity theft include: incorrect addresses or name variations; public records that do not belong to you (judgments or liens); incorrect balances on your credit accounts; and accounts that do not belong to you.
  4. Pay cash.  If it’s a small purchase and you have the cash on you, use cash instead of your card. 

If you need additional information about how you can protect yourself from identity theft, contact data security attorney Micah Adkins for a free information kit at 1-800-263-9091 24/7.