Multiple charges have been filed on two Pensacola women who stole identification information from at least 10 people, used some of the information to open credit card accounts and to fraudulently withdraw money from at least one victim’s bank account.
Jamie Lareatha Gardner, 31, of 3218 Roosevelt St. and Sheritha Rebekah Mathis, 23, of 4600 Twin Oaks Dr. were initially arrested April 19 and April 18 respectively. Additional charges were filed Tuesday on Gardner.
Gardner has been charged with eight counts of grand theft, six counts of identity theft, one counteach of bank fraud and forgery, two counts of uttering a forged instrument, and one count of fraudulent use of a credit card.
Mathis has been charged with two counts of grand theft, two counts of identity theft, and one count each of bank fraud, forgery and uttering a forged instrument. Detective Jon Thacker has been investigating the women since May 2012. The investigation began after a woman reported a check had been stolen from her hotel room, made out for $3,000, fraudulently signed, and that someone tried to deposit it into a checking account.
As of today (May 1), at least 10 people ranging in age from 21 to 88 have been victimized by the suspects, Thacker said. Approximately $22,000 was stolen from credit card companies and banks using victim identifications. The money was used for things like food, clothes and a vacation to Atlanta.
Gardner and Mathis used various means to acquire victim Social Security numbers and creditcards. For example, in two instances, they burglarized lockers at a swimming facility while older women were swimming and stole their purses. In another instance, Social Security numbers were taken from a deed on the sale of a house, Thacker said.
Evidence collected in the investigation indicated Gardner and Mathis were the suspects. Victim identifications and credit card correspondences in victim names were found in Gardner’s house. Perhaps the single most important piece of identification that allowed Gardner and Mathis to fraudulently use information was the victim's Social Security cards.
“I recommend people not carry their Social Security cards with them because if their wallet orpurse is stolen, the person will have their identification and Social Security number. A Social Security number is the most important identifying factor people can use in obtaining someone’s identity,” Thackersaid.
Thacker said Social Security cards should be kept in secure places at home where they are unlikely to be found in the event of a burglary. Also, although they are required by companies when opening a new credit card, people have the option of declining to open an account if they do not want toprovide the number.
“Every credit based company – such as utility, cable, bank accounts, credit cards - require yourSocial Security number, and if you want the service you will have to provide the number,” Thacker said.