Fraud scheme exposed private info of 10,000 people, prosecutors allege

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A fraudulent credit card scheme that has resulted in federal charges for two people might have exposed the private information of 10,000 people, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

It's likely many of the alleged victims lived in the Charlotte area, Channel 9 learned.

The new information was revealed in court filings and a hearing for Justin Pettway, 29, on Thursday.

Pettway and Waundra Bittle are both charged in a complex credit card scheme.

Click here for our past coverage.

Prosecutors believe in the last year Pettway and Bittle gained access to people's private information and used the information to apply for credit cards in the alleged victim's names.

A U.S. Postal Inspection Service agent said in an affidavit that he had observed Pettway retrieving fraudulent cards from people's mailboxes on Katelyn Drive in Charlotte on Dec. 12.

Prosecutors said the scheme involved the suspects getting the information and then taking the fraudulently obtained credit cards.

Prosecutors said Pettway and Bittle had access to skip-tracing services through TransUnion Risk and Alternative Data Solutions, Inc., or TRADS.

Officials said TRADS provided a Rock Hill business, identified only as "P.A.," access in 2015 on the understanding that it would use the services for debt collection.

Court documents list the usernames both Pettway and Bittle had to conduct skip-tracing through the P.A. account with TRADS.

Officials said the skip-tracing allowed users to plug in information, such as a residential address, and get information including date of birth, Social Security number and names for the people who reside at the address.

In an affidavit filed with initial charges against Pettway, a federal agent said Pettway used the information to apply for 80 fraudulent credit cards in the names of victims in Charlotte.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Malley said Thursday that the number of applications has risen to at least 200.

O'Malley said in court that TRADS, which uses the website TLO.com, honored the government's request to turn off P.A.'s access to it skiptracing services in December.

Despite the request, however, O'Malley said TRADS has not confirmed that is "has or will" notify the 10,000 people that their information was stolen.

"We can't compel a company to do the right thing," O'Malley said.

Eyewitness News attempted to contact a representative from Alternative Data Solutions Inc. on Thursday. Our call and email was not returned.

"TransUnion has been working diligently in full cooperation with law enforcement to aid their criminal investigation," TransUnion said in a statement to Channel 9. "Customers of TransUnion must adhere to stringent security procedures in connection with their accounts. The defendants’ misuse of data occurred while they were granted access to our systems by a legitimate customer through their account. We are working to assist this customer in identifying individuals whose information may have been inappropriately accessed by the defendants, and then we will assist that customer in notifying this group. TransUnion takes security very seriously, and we are committed to meeting all applicable legal and regulatory requirements, including ensuring that affected individuals are properly notified."

TransUnion encourages all consumers to monitor their credit activity on a regular basis for fraudulent activity. Consumers can access one free credit report per year from each of the three national consumer credit reporting agencies at www.annualcreditreport.com."

Prosecutors argued that because the information is out there, Pettway and "unidentified conspirators" might be able to harm more people if released from jail.

U.S. Magistrate Judge David Keesler ultimately set bond and conditions for Pettway to be released, but not after criticizing Pettway.

Keesler said a long history of traffic and misdemeanor charges against Pettway showed he didn't "respect the law."

Keesler rattled off three speeding charges in a 30-day period in 2009.

"This is embarassing," Keesler said.

Keesler set a $25,000 unsecured bond and ordered that Pettway be placed on home detention with location monitoring. Pettway would also be subject to warrantless searches and cannot own a cellphone with internet capabilities.

Bittle was released Wednesday.

Attorneys for Bittle and Pettway did not comment.

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