CORAL SPRINGS (CBS4) – Detectives in Coral Springs say solid police work and a little serendipity led to the bust of a major identity theft ring.
Investigators say it’s a case that may make you rethink the way you use your debit and credit cards.
The case began earlier this year when a detective arrested Germithe Geffrard for using a skimmer to steal customer’s credit card numbers while she worked as a waitress at a Coral Springs Chili’s restaurant.
As that detective shared notes with another investigator they realized that one of the credit cards in Geffrard’s skimmer was used in another crime allegedly committed by Benson Clermont.
At that point, Detective Robert Ames said they began to unravel the scope of the operation.
“We knew this was pretty big,” Ames told CBS 4’s Carey Codd.
And when they searched Clermont’s home in Sunrise, Ames said their belief was solidified.
On Tuesday Ames and other investigators showed the evidence recovered to CBS 4 News — a credit card making machine, a credit card skimmer, laptops, blank credit cards and pages and pages of victim’s personal information.
“(It was) full of names, dates of birth and social security numbers on over 940 people,” Ames said, adding that detectives still have to search through three laptops and more than a dozen cellphones belonging to the group.
At this point it’s unclear how many victims there are. Detectives believe most of the victims are from South Florida but said they have victims up and down the East Coast.
Ames said the thieves were prolific and used the stolen credit card information to make phony credit cards and went on shopping sprees. One of their biggest purchases — renting cars.
Detectives have yet to put a dollar amount on the money stolen by the group.
“It’s a modern day bank robbery,” Ames said.
Arrested in the case — Geffrard, Benson Clermont, Fredman Clermont and Patrice Duck. Investigators tell CBS 4 News when they arrested Duck she had a skimmer in her possession with 600 credit card numbers on it. Geffrard is charged with criminal use of personal information and use of a scanning device. The others are charged with grand theft and fraudulent use of a credit card.
CBS 4 News tried to reach the accused but had no luck. An attorney for Duck said it was too early for him to comment on the case.
The crime took its’ toll on victims. CBS 4 News spoke to one woman who said Geffrard skimmed her credit card.
“I feel very violated,” she said, declining to be identified.
She said she’s afraid of who the group gave her info to and after being hit for nearly 5-grand in charges she only uses cash.
“I use cash for multiple things,” the victim said. “I will never use a credit card at a restaurant ever again.”
The corporate offices of Chili’s sent a statement to CBS 4 News. It reads in part:
“This was an isolated incident involving one employee. Chili’s is cooperating fully with authorities on their investigation and this food server’s employment ended when we learned of this conduct. The employee did not obtain credit card numbers using the corporate or local restaurant computer system and the security of these systems was not compromised.”
Investigators say the biggest takeaway from this story is to check your credit card statements often.
“You have to pay attention to your credit card statements. You have to be diligent in understanding that there are bad people out there taking advantage of that,” Ames said. “They’re hoping you’re not going to be diligent and that gives them more time to commit fraud against your account.”