May 31, 2011 in City

Four arrested in bank scam

Police say ID theft suspects netted $33,000 with phony verification calls
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Four Seattle residents didn’t just steal $33,000 from several Spokane banks in one afternoon; they were handed the money as if it were theirs, according to court records.

In a chilling new example of identity theft, authorities say four people – one suspect has already pleaded guilty – went to local banks on March 12, 2010, with stolen credit cards. They identified themselves as the cardholders and sought cash advances, which were declined.

They would then call a number from their cellphones, talk to someone on the line and then hand the phone to the bank teller; that official-sounding person directed the tellers to approve the transactions. Four tellers fulfilled those requests and two refused before four suspects were caught.

“It always takes a little bit of time before you find out you are scammed,” Spokane County sheriff’s Detective Lloyd Hixson said.

Charged with several counts of first-degree theft were Lukeisha A. Harris and Elicionne L. Washington, both 25, and Corey Jones and Charles H. Kendrick, both 27. Kendrick has also been charged with leading organized crime because investigators believe he directed the others to commit felonies on his behalf. Jones has already pleaded guilty and the other suspects’ trials are pending.

Hixson said the alleged scam is similar to one in 2006 when suspects from Sacramento, Calif., rented a U-Haul and used stolen credit cards to purchase thousands of dollars worth of merchandise that they shipped back to California. When the stolen cards were declined, they would call for “authorization” and hand the phone to the store clerks.

That scam worked in towns along the Interstate 5 corridor into the Seattle area, but it ended with an arrest in Spokane thanks to a tip from a detective in Tacoma, Hixson said.

He said his initial concern was that the bank scam last year had been used elsewhere, but investigators haven’t heard of similar cases.

Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Bob Sargent said he’d never seen this version of identity theft.

An agent with the U.S. Secret Service questioned the suspects about the identity of the person who verified the accounts over the phone, but Hixson said it’s his understanding that the federal investigation has stalled.

The day started and ended with visits to seven Spokane-area banks, and it could have been worse if it weren’t for two diligent tellers, according to court records:

• At 9:27 a.m., Lukeisha Harris used an Oregon driver’s license to identify herself as Aurora Wright at the U.S. Bank at 2322 E. Sprague Ave. She presented a Capital One Visa card under Wright’s name and requested and was given a $7,500 cash advance.

• At 10:30 a.m., Corey Jones used an Oregon driver’s license to identify himself as James Brown at the Washington Trust Bank at 27 E. Indiana Ave. He presented a Wachovia Visa under the same name and requested and was given an $8,000 cash advance.

• At 11 a.m., Elicionne Washington used the Aurora Wright ID at Washington Trust Bank, 2810 N. Maple St., and presented a Wells Fargo MasterCard. She requested and was given $8,000.

• At 11:40 a.m., Jones again identified himself as James Brown and used the Wachovia Visa card at Washington Trust Bank at 7815 N. Division St. He asked for and was given a $9,500 cash advance.

• At 1 p.m., Harris used the Aurora Wright license and Capital One Visa at Washington Trust Bank, 438 E. Hastings Road, to request $9,500. That teller, however, said he needed to call the credit card company directly. Harris took the card and left the bank without the money.

• At 1:49 p.m., Washington, using the Aurora Wright identification, was denied a $7,500 cash advance at AmericanWest Bank, 9506 N. Newport Highway. She took the credit card and left.

• The scam came to an end seven minutes later and just a block away when Deputy Robert Cunningham responded to a bank fraud call at Chase Bank, 9604 N. Newport Highway, and arrested Jones as he attempted to leave after another failed transaction.

Harris, Washington and Kendrick were arrested outside in their car after they handed over fraudulent identification cards.

“These guys got $33,000 in three or four hours,” Hixson said. “That’s a pretty good haul.”

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