STAND YOUR GROUND: Debit card "cloning" - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Andy Wise

STAND YOUR GROUND: Debit card "cloning"

Just stop using your debit card at restaurants.  Period.

Get cash before the meal or use your credit card and pay off the balance.

The reason is thieves working as waiters and waitresses are not only stealing your debit card numbers, but they're also cloning your cards.

The Action News 5 Investigators have received complaints about DEBIT CARD CLONING originating in restaurants near Oak Court Mall/Laurelwood in East Memphis, Winchester Road and Hacks Cross near Hickory Hill and South Germantown.  Detectives says they're tracking the crime in Collierville, too, but they have not established a pattern at any specific restaurants.

Restaurant staff are using devices called skimmers, small card sliders that can be concealed in an apron or in a pant pocket.  They take customers' cards to pay the bill, slide them in the establishment's cash register, then slide them again in their skimmers to record the debit card numbers.

"The actual numbers and information from it (are) compromised through software," says Sgt. Clay Aitken of the Shelby County Sheriff's ALERT Squad (Area Law Enforcement & Retailers Team).  "After it's compromised, it's downloaded on to other charging devices."

The numbers are then catalogued -- sometimes sold -- and turned over to someone who uses plastic card stock, magnetic strips and encoders to manufacture brand new debit cards or gift cards with the stolen numbers.

"Who knows what they're doing with other peoples' cards?" spouts Angela Hayes of Southeast Memphis.  Her card was cloned by someone at a Hickory Hill restaurant, but her credit union shut down the unauthorized purchases before they got out of control.

The ALERT Squad and the Action News 5 Investigators identified and helped apprehend accused debit card-cloner Ronald Lewis.  The 34-year-old Hickory Hill man is accused of stealing an unknown amount of debit card numbers when he worked at a Collierville restaurant.  ALERT detectives and U.S. postal inspectors say he'd send skimmers full of numbers to an associate in California.  His partner would then encode the numbers into VISA gift cards in an attempt to make them untraceable.  

Read our story about Ronald Lewis here:

Special Agent Rick Harlow of the U.S. Secret Service says debit card cloning is very common on the West Coast, but it's coming on strong in the Mid-South.  Harlow is also wary of naming restaurants without an established pattern of cloning, but he says fighting this crime is simple.

"I would not use a debit card at a restaurant," he says.  "I would use a credit card."

Or cold, hard cash.



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