Credit card fraud shuts down bail option in Champaign County

Credit card fraud shuts down bail option in Champaign County

URBANA — About 10 people have been released from the Champaign County Jail since the first of the year after having posted bail using stolen credit card information.

The discovery of the fraud prompted Sheriff Dustin Heuerman on Wednesday to suspend indefinitely the online payment method GovPay.com, which was intended to increase convenience for someone posting bail for an arrestee.

"It's been an option for several years and we had a couple of instances (of fraud) here and there but this is really starting to get out of control," Heuerman said.

"Since the beginning of 2019, there has been more than $25,000 in bail paid with the remote option from suspected stolen credit card information. We have seen an increase in fraudulent activity as of late and fear that as word of this spreads, more fraud will take place. There are a variety of inmates who have been released as a result of this fraudulent activity and bail amounts have also varied," the sheriff said.

Amounts posted have ranged from $184 to just over $5,000, he said.

At a pretrial hearing Tuesday in Judge Roger Webber's courtroom, a Champaign man charged in a drugs and gun case failed to appear. Lawyers told the judge that he was released after bail had been posted by use of stolen credit card information.

Court records show that man had been free three weeks before the GovPay folks alerted Champaign County authorities to the fraud. The $5,000 in bond money was refunded to the rightful owner of the credit card number the next day, court records show, and a judge issued a warrant for the man’s arrest after that.

"I was just stunned," said Presiding Judge Tom Difanis of the latest twist on larceny. "The person in jail didn't use the credit card. Obviously, the underground knows about it."

Heuerman said his investigators are looking into the fraud.

Meanwhile, those wanting to post bond for an inmate can still do so by appearing at the jail with cash or an actual credit card, as opposed to just a credit card number. The bond poster must present valid identification and if paying in cash, have the exact amount.

When bail is posted in person, the name and address of the person posting are usually included in the defendant's court file.

"Bail is made to entice people to come back (for future court hearings). We are working with the state's attorney and the circuit clerk to figure out what our options are as far as what to do about these people who are out on bond that has been fraudulently posted," Heuerman said.

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