A worker at a local Wendy’s restaurant in Seattle was arrested yesterday, along with two alleged accomplices, and charged with identity theft after she allegedly used a “skimmer” to steal credit card information from as many as 135 customers.

The investigation was initiated by the King County Sheriff’s office after evidence was brought to it by a fraud investigator at Washington-based credit union BECU, who had linked violations to several member accounts to the Tukwila Wendy's restaurant on International Boulevard. “The credit union notified them of fraudulent credit card activity,” Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the King County Prosecutor’s office told Credit Union Journal yesterday.

The Wendy’s worker was identified as 33-year-old Maria DeHoyos-Ortiz. During the nine-month investigation that followed, King County detectives came to believe DeHoyos-Ortiz was lifting credit card information using a handheld "skimmer," a credit card reader that stored identifying information contained on a card's magnetic strip. That information was copied onto forged credit cards, which were then used at Puget Sound-area stores.

A search of DeHoyos-Ortiz's home and car uncovered 14 Playstation 3 machines, as well as several skimmers, a credit card encoder and credit card stock, according to charging documents. Prosecutors said she had a skimmer on her person when she was arrested July 21 at the Wendy's restaurant.

Gregg Kats, vice president of risk management for BECU, said the credit union began its own internal investigation after several members reported fraud and the credit union identified the common point of compromise as the Wendy’s location. “We worked on this for eight to 10 months, then we turned it over to law enforcement,” he said. “And sure enough, there she was. They even found a skimmer in her pocket.”

Losses in the case are at least $75,000 and continue to mount every day, according to prosecutors. About 60% of those losses accrued to BECU, which the credit union will eat, according to Kats, whose team is working on dozens of fraud cases at any one time.

DeHoyos-Ortiz has been charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree identity theft, nine counts of second-degree identity theft and two counts of unlawful factoring, the crime of unlawfully copying a credit card.

Two other suspects, identified as Ricardo Ramacho and Linzy Hopkins, have been charged in the case with using cards created with the stolen credit card data.

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