An NBC26 Special Report
One woman paid more than $10,000 in cell phone bills and to make matters worse -- she never made a single call. It turns out prison inmates were running up the tab. Video by nbc26.comvideo
A cell phone is something most people can't do without. The bill at times can get pricey. One woman paid more than $10,000 in cell phone bills and to make matters worse -- she never made a single call. It turns out prison inmates were running up the tab.
A Greendale woman's information is now tied to prison inmates after trying to do something good.
Feeling completely violated -- she wants to be anonymous.
She recalls picking up her bank statement.
"Looked at it and there were large charges to AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile something called Securus, which I didn't know at the time but it's an inmate calling system," said the victim.
Somehow, her banking information was circulating around Wisconsin prisons.
"It was gut-wrenching, gut-wrenching," she said.
And over six months, close to $12,000 was electronically withdrawn from her checking account.
Her account was more than just compromised, she had paid for every call made by close to a dozen inmates locked behind prison walls.
Detective Bob Windler with the Greendale Police Department would soon figure it out. It's an investigation which took him inside the state prisons.
"But when I realize I had jail records for eight, nine, 10 different inmates throughout the state I had a feeling this could get pretty large," said Windler.
His feeling was right and one which connected that Greendale woman to a phone scam even detectives couldn't believe.
Here's how it works: Police believe Quinnatte Jeff wrote down the routing and checking numbers from the victim's check. Police said Jeff went to a Radio Shack in Milwaukee to buy cell phones. She accused of paying with cash for the phones. Those cell numbers would get passed along to inmates in prison. The inmates would pick up the phone, dial and talk for hours all on the victim's dime. Police say when it came time to add more minutes and pay the bill -- they would use the victim's stolen account information.
"They were to mostly cellular phone companies and one other company that was later identified as an outfit that provides phone services for inmates," said Windler. The service allows inmates to stay connected with their families. Court papers show Jeff admitted she used the Greendale's woman's bank account to pay the bills for inmates
Police say the paper trail lead back to a $20 check written to the Jeff's daughter.
"She's a Big Sister Little Sister and she sponsors a Little Sister through that program and has for several years," explained Windler. The check was meant to help sponsor the girl for a summer camp. Greendale police say Jeff stole the woman's banking information, purchased the cell phones and gave the number to her lover and friends who were all locked in state prisons.
Now she could be behind bars too. Quinnatte Jeff is charged with identity theft and she'll be back in court next month.
The victim's bank reimbursed her for most of the stolen money.
But she and investigators fear until phone companies change their policies and start to require more than just any name or any account number we are all at risk.
So what can we do to protect ourselves?
Banks recommend you monitor your accounts weekly. That's something the victim, in this case, did not do.