Three Columbia women are accused of stealing nearly a million dollars worth of property and services from a cable company.
Bria Chenial Watts, 28, Asia Michelle McCrory, 29, and Courtney Katerri Smith, 32, were each charged with first-degree violations of the computer crimes act, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said in a news release.
According to SLED, the trio worked together to create multiple fake customer accounts with Charter Communications, the cable and telecommunications company that’s now known as Charter Spectrum.
The women provided fake identification and false payment information to the cable company, arrest warrants show.
Each Richland County woman was responsible for creating more than one fake account — much more.
Agents investigating the case would not reveal the exact number of phony accounts the women created, but said there were hundreds set up in the fraud, SLED spokesman Tommy Crosby told The State.
Once the cable services were installed, Watts, McCrory, and Smith would get people to pay them directly for the service. But bills sent out by the cable company to the fake account addresses went unpaid.
Through these false accounts, the women were responsible for stealing more than $700,000 in goods and services from Charter Communications, according to the release.
Eventually, the cable company recognized something was wrong and contacted the South Carolina Attorney General’s office, which asked SLED to initiate an investigation.
McCrory and Smith were arrested in early March, while Watts was taken into custody Friday, according to Lexington County court records. All three were booked at the Lexington County Detention Center because the branch of Charter Communications that was affected is based in West Columbia, according to arrest warrants.
McCrory and Smith scammed the cable company from June 2018 to December 2019, arrest warrants show. Watts started at the same time as the others, but continued to commit the computer crimes until July 2020, an arrest warrant shows.
Over the course of the fraud, McCrory ($22,564), Smith ($128,965), and Watts ($594,609) cost Charter Communications $746,138, according to arrest warrants.
After being locked up at the Lexington County Detention Center, McCrory and Watts were each released on $5,000 surety bonds, court records show. Smith’s bond was set at $10,000.
Prior to the computer fraud charges, Smith was arrested for unrelated crimes on Dec. 21, 2019, court records show. There are 12 charges of financial identity fraud pending against Smith, according to court records.
If convicted on the felony computer fraud charges, Watts, McCrory, and Smith would each face a maximum punishment of 5 years in prison and a $50,000 fine, according to South Carolina law.
The investigation was focused on Watts, McCrory, and Smith because they were considered the individuals at the center of the fraud ring. While nobody else is expected to face computer fraud charges, Crosby said more arrests are possible because it is still being investigated by SLED.
Charter Spectrum has 31 million customers in 41 states, making it the second-largest cable company in the U.S. behind Comcast.
It ranked No. 71 in the 2020 Fortune 500 list of the largest U.S. corporations by total revenue, raking in $45.8 billion last year. Residential customers paid an average of $112.60 per month for the cable company’s services, according to Forbes.