Credit card skimmer

This palm-sized credit card skimmer is similar to one allegedly used by waiter Brian Adams Jr. at the T.G.I. Friday's in Laurel, according to the Prince George's County State's Attorney's office. (Submitted photo, State's Attorney's Office / August 14, 2011)

An Elkridge man was indicted by a grand jury Aug. 11 and charged with theft, identity theft and conspiracy to commit theft, stemming from a credit card scam he allegedly ran while working as a waiter at T.G.I. Friday's on Route 1 inLaurel.

According to Prince George's County State's Attorney Angela Alsobrooks, 21-year-oldBrian Keith Adams Jr. is accused of using a handheld scanning device to capture the credit card information of dozens of restaurant patrons who used a credit card to pay for their meal. Adams allegedly sold the credit card information he scanned to other parties.

Alsobrooks said the scheme took place between December 2009 and April 2010, when Adams worked at T.G.I. Friday's. It was uncovered after two Secret Service employees dined at the restaurant March 16, 2010, and became suspicious about charges that later showed up on their credit card statements.


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"They had used their credit cards at the restaurant and later talked with each other about irregular charges on their cards," Alsobrooks said. "They worked in Baltimore and notified officials there, who began an investigation with the Prince George's County Police. They narrowed it down to this defendant and discovered that information from 73 (credit) cards was taken in 280 transactions."

Adams is not charged with using the credit card information himself, but with selling it to others, who Alsobrooks said made more than $42,000 in unauthorized charges on the accounts of the victims.

"We don't have information on the people he sold the information to. That part of the investigation is ongoing," Alsobrooks said.

Credit card fraud 'commonplace'

According to government and financial institutions, every minute, 20 people are subjected to identity and credit card theft. In 2009, they reported that more than 11 million people nationwide were victims of credit and debit card scams that resulted in unauthorized charges of $54 billion.

Alsobrooks said credit card fraud is commonplace in the county as well.

"We have a special prosecution unit that handles economic crimes, and they have had a lot of telephone calls from victims since this (Adams' indictment) occurred," she said. "We tell people to check their credit and bank statements regularly, and if they see something irregular, call us … or the Police Department and FTC (Federal Trade Commission)."

According to officials with the National Conference of State Legislatures, 31 states and Puerto Rico have laws on the books that make it illegal to use scanning devices to capture someone's credit card information that's stored in the card's magnetic strip, but the possession or the sale of the device is not outlawed in most of these states. In NCSL's list of state laws regarding credit card scanners, most statutes simply state that the illegal possession or illegal use of a skimming device is a felony, but only Kentucky's regulation clearly states that "possessing," in addition to misusing re-encoding devices, is a felony.

"These skimmers are widespread but they are not illegal to buy (in Maryland)," Alsobrooks said. "A lot of establishments, including some in Prince George's, are now swiping credit cards in front of guests at their tables, especially in upscale establishments. It may be cost prohibitive, but it would be ideal if more would do this."'

When asked if T.G.I. Friday's is considering using this payment method to avoid future credit card scams, a national spokesperson for the restaurant chain said, "We have reviewed our credit card processes to further strengthen the control measures we have in place."

She added, "We have cooperated fully with the authorities in their investigation."

If convicted, Adams could face more than 20 years in prison, more than $25,000 in fines and have to pay restitution to the victims of the credit card scam he allegedly ran at the restaurant.

For information on how to avoid or respond to credit card skimming or other scams, go to http://www.scambusters.org/CreditCardFraud.html