Wawa employee arrested for theft

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January 23, 2009

1:21 AM

Shortly before winter break, 18-year-old Wawa employee Sherrell Montique Morris allegedly stole $50 from sophomore Taylor Porter’s William and Mary Express account, leading to Morris’ Dec. 29 arrest. According to the College of William and Mary’s records, a Wawa employee has allegedly stolen from at least one other student account. Morris has since been fired.

An Express account is a debit account accessible through a student’s identification card. It is used to buy food and other items on campus and at select off-campus locations.

Porter said she entered the Wawa across the street from Blow Memorial Hall on Dec. 1 to purchase a bottle of Diet Coke as she, and many other students, had done countless times. Porter’s mother had deposited a specific amount of money into her Express account for her to use during exams.

The next day, Porter logged onto her myWM account and found her express balance far below what she had expected. She then called the College’s Auxiliary Services and ordered an itemized list of all transactions on her Express account. Such a list shows how many times a student’s ID card is swiped and if a student’s ID number has been manually entered into a merchant card reader. Porter saw the purchase of her soda just after 6 p.m., as well as another $50 Wawa purchase five minutes later. The second time her number had been entered manually.

Alarmed, Porter said she went to Wawa to inform management of the alleged theft from her account. According to her, Wawa’s general manager, Ron, hoped to refund her stolen $50, but told her to return the next day so he could contact upper management to decide how to proceed. Porter said Ron informed her the following day that the corporate division of Wawa refused to issue a refund.

Ron declined to comment or provide his last name for this story.

Porter then went to Campus Police. Since Wawa is located off campus, they directed her to the City of Williamsburg Police. A Williamsburg police officer accompanied Porter to the Richmond Road Wawa to investigate.

“When I first walked in, one lady at the register freaked out,” Porter said. “I knew which side of the register I had used, but I couldn’t remember who my cashier had been. I go to Wawa so much that at one point every employee has rung me up.”

According to Porter, a Wawa employee pulled out the register’s record at the request of the police officer. The record listed Porter’s purchase of a soda at 6:03 p.m. and then a purchase of a $50 American Express Gift Card at 6:08 p.m.

Though she could not identify the cashier, Porter said Wawa had the security tape of her purchase enabling them to identify Morris as Porter’s cashier. The company immediately fired Morris, Porter said.
Under the guidance of Student Assembly President Valerie Hopkins ’09, Porter then contacted Wade Henley the head of the College’s Auxiliary Services.

After securing a copy of the police report, Henley immediately set out to refund Porter. Eventually, Porter’s account was credited, and the College withheld a payment of $50 to Wawa.

“Wade Henley was extremely helpful,” Porter said. “He was so concerned that this had happened and responded so quickly to any of my questions. He deserves major kudos.”

Henley cross-verified all of Wawa’s records with Express account records during Morris’ time working the register, and found at least two other fraudulent charges.

“Auxiliary Services reviewed all transactions that took place at Wawa during the semester and flagged those that had unusual characteristics,” Henley said. “Students were notified if there was a transaction that seemed unusual. The students verified the transactions and there were only two so far that were deemed improper.”
On Dec. 29, Williamsburg police arrested Morris on the 7000 Block of Lynn Circle. in James City County. Morris pled not guilty to any wrongdoings. Porter will have to argue her case in a Williamsburg court. A court date has not yet been set.

While the College and Williamsburg police are handling the current theft, members of the SA worry that an incident of this nature could happen again.

“The Office of Auxiliary Services is treating this as an isolated incident, which I think it is, but I am worried that other people may now think this is something they could get away with,” Hopkins said.
Not only are student account numbers printed boldly on the front of ID cards, as well as on Wawa receipts, but the express account balance is printed on Wawa receipts, and thus viewable after a purchase.

“Because of this, a merchant could theoretically drain a student’s account,” Porter said.

The College Auxiliary Services has been researching certain software that would prevent the printing of all the digits of student account numbers on receipts, but Auxiliary Services also believes that students can take action to protect themselves from this type of theft.

“Students should periodically monitor their William and Mary Express balances, and if there is a question, they should notify the ID Office,” Henley said.

Porter plans to speak before the SA about the theft, and the SA has already begun discussing possible theft-prevention methods.

“The SA is currently formulating a list of suggestions and criteria for a new or updated system,” Hopkins said. “For instance, the current system would not be able to handle it if all students could check their transaction list online like a debit card. However, that is something to add in the future, so that students can monitor their transactions.”

Though this theft may be the first of its kind at the College, this type of crime has occurred on other campuses. According to The Harvard Crimson, a Harvard University undergraduate student was discovered last year manufacturing fake Harvard student identification cards that could be used to access student accounts.

Porter hopes students will monitor their Express accounts and be mindful when visiting Wawa.

“I’ve only been to Wawa once since this happened,” Porter said. “And I used cash.”

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