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Crime tip: Don't use a stolen credit card if you wear a GPS ankle bracelet.

Written by Geoff Williams
Posted On: July 8, 2011

Reading about crime can be a little depressing at times. You start to see how many ways your money can be taken from you, and it's easy to conclude that maybe it would be best to just find a deserted island somewhere and live off the land. But don't pack your bags and sail for an uncharted isle just yet. If you look at the positive side of the ledger, you'll see that while there are a lot of crimes out there, at least these crooks are often caught and made to pay.

Not sure what we mean? You'll see, in our latest weekly update on credit card crime. Criminals are caught all the time.

Maybe we should do this with all career criminals

Mephian Washington, 46, is a crook. It's his job, just as surely as some people wash windows for a living, work in a law firm or run their own business. At least, Sheriff Terry Wagner, of Lincoln, Neb., referred to Washington as a "career criminal" and for good reason. The man has been arrested 51 times in Lincoln, usually for fairly minor crimes.

Well, earlier this month, a police officer was studying some surveillance footage that had been recorded on June 16. Someone had stolen a credit card that day and had traveled around Lincoln, racking up charges of over $1,000 on groceries, gas, electronics and various other items.

Someone apparently thought of Washington, who--get this--wears a court-ordered ankle bracelet. Maybe the court neglected to tell Washington that when you wear an ankle bracelet, you're tracked by a GPS system. In other words, you can never go anywhere without the authorities being able to determine where you are. You can see where I'm going with this, can't you?

The police looked at the information provided by the aforementioned ankle bracelet and realized that, funny thing, Washington was in the same stores at the same time purchases were made with the stolen credit card. Oh, and he was spotted on the surveillance tape as well. I'm sure you can guess the rest of the story…

One man's trash really is another man's treasure

A Richard Cunningham, in Cheney, Wash., is facing the wrath of the law, thanks to some skilled police work--and a cooperative garbage man.

On June 6, a man's wallet was stolen out of his car, and the credit card was used, allegedly by Cunningham, for a variety of purchases. Cunningham treated himself, or perhaps some friends and family, to $44 worth of food. He bought a Play Station 3 and was conscientious enough to get an extended service warranty. He purchased a 43-inch TV. Life was good.

But the police started going to the retail stores and looking for a possible suspect on a surveillance camera and managed to get a glimpse of the thief's white Jeep Cherokee. They soon found a white Jeep Cherokee parked in front of a mobile home, just two blocks from where the wallet was stolen.

Of course, that was hardly proof. Lots of people presumably have a white Jeep Cherokee, and the police couldn't get a warrant to go into the home. But they knew that if the crook threw away the receipts, they'd have proof that the resident there was the credit card thief. And while police can't go into a house and search it without a warrant, once your trash is put on the curb, it's considered public property. And so the authorities asked one of the sanitation workers to collect the suspect's garbage as usual, but keep it from going into the truck.

Authorities searched the trash, and found some boxes that matched that of the stolen merchandise, and even better, a receipt containing the same credit card information as the stolen one. Bingo!

Horrible employees

Here's a sad tale. Dave and Leanne Belk of Davenport, Iowa, recently made news in the Quad-City Times because their employee and friend, Sheeny Black, allegedly stole thousands of dollars from them.

That sort of thing happens all the time, but the circumstances of this story are pretty unusual. The Belks are poster children for the expression, "No good deed goes unpunished."

Black was laid off from her job, and so the Belks--who live on the same street--offered a job as a bookkeeper for their startup installation business.

They trained her and gave her a company credit card with her name on it. The idea was that she would use the card to make business purchases. I kind of doubt the Belks would have complained if she had occasionally used it to buy a pack of gum or a soda, but generally, you know, this was a business card.

Well, Black used the card for some personal items. Actually, "some" might not be quite an accurate descriptor. She used it to buy at least $10,000 worth of items, and the Belks say it's more like $50,000 worth of personal items, over the span of four years.

How was she caught? Well, as mail carriers sometimes do, apparently the postal service delivered the wrong mail to the Belk's house. Dave Belk opened some of that mail without looking at the name and suddenly realized he was staring at Black's credit card statement--and that there were $800 in purchases. She was buying groceries and going out to restaurants. Later, he learned that she had used the company credit card to renovate her house, purchase school supplies for her kids and host a graduation party.

Since Black was the bookkeeper, and a trusted one at that, Belk hadn't exactly been privy to this information and presumably didn't believe he needed to be checking up on her.

Even more incredible, Belk had given Black's husband 40 percent shares in the company and legal ownership of the company, and so she was technically also stealing from her husband. At any rate, she has pleaded guilty but, at the time of this writing, has not been sentenced. She could be facing 10 years in prison. And I'm guessing the Belks have not only mixed feelings about giving any future employees company credit cards but wondering if they should be irked at the postal service or giving them a cash bonus at the holidays for the mail carrier's blunder.

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