GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A man faces 15 years in federal prison for using a combination of fake credit cards and IDs to try to scam stores at the Tanger Outlets in Byron Center.

Earl Jarome Wright III is the 34-year-old grandson of a venerated late bishop of the Church Of God In Christ in Detroit.

In 2011, Wright III pleaded no contest to his first count of stealing a financial transaction device in Oakland County. He got a one-year sentence. In 2015, he was sentenced to prison for stealing credit cards and he was released in May 2017. And in January, he was trying to use fraudulent credit cards in Kent County.

Then on Feb. 19, according to the FBI, Wright decided to come to the Tanger Outlets with a trunk full of fake credit cards and IDs. He charged $178 at Banana Republic using a card belonging to someone in Indiana. He also used a stolen card to charge $772 at the Shinola watch store, police say.

But it was when he used a shoddy-looking NetSpend Western Union credit card at the Kay Jewelers that a sharp-eyed clerk noticed that the card had way too many zeros and that his ID also looked fake.

She confiscated his ID and contacted authorities, at which point Wright took off.

“Whether it be proper training or just experience in this case, we’re glad the identification was made. It’s impressive,” Kent County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Joel Roon said.

The Kay clerk called Wright and told him he left his ID behind and he said not to worry because he had plenty more.

But he returned two hours later to get his fake ID back and was met by officers. When asked what he was doing, he said he was looking to get “the fake ID I wanted back,” authorities said.

Investigators say they found 13 credit cards and three drivers licenses, all fake, in Wright’s car.

“That’s a pretty large number of credit cards for a single person,” Roon said.

When asked what he was going to do with the proceeds of his crime, Wright started crying and said, “Prolly (sic) sell them for money for my lawyer.”

That’s probably not a bad use of his money because Wright is in federal custody on charges that carry a 15-year maximum penalty.

Roon said the fact that the suspect allegedly used a fake ID in addition to the stolen credit cards is an extra step. However, one of the fake IDs showed a picture of a man of a different race.


For investigators, working to get ahead of scammers is a constant battle.

“There is a local task force that’s dedicated only to financial crimes, if that tells you the severity and the frequency that we see these crimes,” Roon said.

But increased enforcement and education has led to some success, especially on schemes that use a skimmer — a device often hidden in gas pumps that steals credit or debit card information. Additionally, the implementation of EMV chips in cards has cut fraud by 70 percent in the growing number of stores that use them, according to the FBI.

Authorities remind consumers to be careful about their personal information and keep a close eye on their accounts to make sure they aren’t victims. And like in the Wright case, clerks can also help find out frauds.

“We always encourage the tellers who are taking credit cards to check that ID, because if there’s not an accompanying ID, there is a chance that it’s fraudulent,” Roon said.

But even that is not foolproof.

“Even locally, we’ve seen thieves with embossers; they emboss the card with a name. If a person has a card with a name and they go the extra step beyond that to have a fake ID, they can really do some damage,” Roon said.



FBI tips to avoid becoming a victim of credit card fraud