A waitress who worked at a Hamburger Hamlet restaurant last year has been accused of picking up more than tips from her customers.
The former waitress also made off with the credit or debit card numbers of at least half a dozen patrons -- and possibly as many as 40, the Los Angeles city attorney's office said Monday. Already, about $16,300 in unauthorized charges have been linked to the scam.
A telltale clue that helped the restaurant and investigators zero in on the waitress: She would make quick visits to the restroom after picking up customers' charge cards, apparently to swipe them through a palm-sized device that recorded the confidential numbers.
"One of our team members was behaving a little suspiciously, I'd guess you'd say," said Greg Hernandez, an executive vice president for the eight-restaurant Hamlet Restaurant Group.
April DuBoise, 27, of Los Angeles, is charged with nine identity theft and fraud-related counts, along with five counts of grand theft, said Jonathan Diamond of the city attorney's office. DuBoise worked for the chain's West Los Angeles location on South Sepulveda Boulevard over a six-week period in February and March of 2006.
She is to be arraigned June 25 in Los Angeles County Superior Court. If convicted, DuBoise could face up to 12 years in jail and $12,000 in fines.
But investigators said DuBoise was essentially a small fry in the operation. They said she pocketed only $200 from the scam.
They say that a key figure in the case, who remains at large, was an unidentified man who provided DuBoise with the device, known as a "wedge," to skim the card numbers.
He promised to give her $10 for each card number she delivered -- but vanished, officials said, before paying off his full debt to the waitress.
Investigators said the roughly $16,300 in bogus charges that have been identified showed up on the statements of six of the restaurant's customers. Evidence suggests that 35 to 40 cardholders were victimized, and the total dollar amount of unauthorized charges can only be guessed.
The investigation began when Citigroup, which issued some of the cards, received complaints about unauthorized charges showing up on customers' statements. The company contacted the U.S. Secret Service, and eventually the office of City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo joined the investigation.
Authorities enlisted the restaurant chain's cooperation after noticing that all of the cardholders had dined at the West Los Angeles location. (Its name, like the rest of the chain's outlets, was changed to Hamlet Restaurant and Bar last summer.)
Investigators said receipts showed that DuBoise was the server on six compromised cards. And managers, they said, also then realized that DuBoise had the strange habit of trekking to the restroom after picking up customers' cards.
Investigators say consumers should check their financial statements regularly and report bogus charges immediately, to curb identity theft. Authorities also recommended that consumers watch out for other strange behavior related to charge cards -- such as a server who hurries to the bathroom with a card.
"That would be something that would look sort of suspicious to me," said Wayne Williams, deputy special agent in charge of the Los Angeles field office of the Secret Service.