.89 coke-float turns to $2,500.00 nightmare

By Layron Livingston - bio | email

TYLER, TEXAS (KLTV) - Jennifer Johnson's pretty confident that her ID theft nightmare began with a Coke-float that she thought would only cost her 89 cents.

She said she bought for her daughter at the Chicken Express restaurant located on Old Jacksonville Highway in South Tyler. That was in May.

It wasn't until later in July, Johnson realized that charging that Coke-float to her debit card would leave her vulnerable to $2,500 in fraudulent charges.

"I cried," she said.

Johnson tried using her debit card to make an online purchase, but the purchase would not go through. She called her bank, which had canceled her card.

"[When] I talked to the bank, there were only four or five charges," she said. "By the time I got home and checked my online banking, there close to 20 charges."

Johnson works as a local court clerk. She was having a casual conversation with a local detective who was working a case, involving a Chicken Express employee, several stolen credit cards, and fraudulent charges. Johnson said that detective later informed her that her name was all over his case file.

She, along with 6,500 victims, later learned a Chicken Express employee stole their credit and debit card numbers.

Elizabeth Pickrell, was eventually fired and arrested, but not before she and three men: Nathan Michael, Chris Michael, and Corey Davis--ran up $2,500 to Johnson's account, alone.

"I still had the card, and that was what scared me the most."

Brian McCabe, executive vice-president of Southside Bank in Tyler, said his bank was forced to issue several new cards to their own customers defrauded in the scheme.

Unfortunately, fraud is just a part of the banking business, he said.

"We monitor fraud through special software pieces, and we have a dedicated staff that is looking at transactions and suspicious transactions."

McCabe said Southside also inspects its ATM's daily for credit card skimming devices.

He and other experts recommend checking accounts and statements regularly and reporting any suspicious activity.

Don Esch owns a credit card processing company. He showed us a wireless credit card processor that is quickly gaining popularity across East Texas.

All customers have to do is swipe their cards at their own tables.

"The receipt is printed out at the table, and [the card] never leaves the sight of the cardholder," he said.

"There's no information stored in the machine," he said. The information is encrypted and sent to a secure server where the payment is processed.

Esch said the device provides a little more piece of mind for customers. He hopes more restaurants in particular catch on to the idea.

Johnson said she'll just stick to using cash.

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