, Salem, MA

January 23, 2013

Keenan files bill to change state credit card fraud law

By Bethany Bray

---- — SALEM — Rep. John Keenan has filed a bill to change language in state law that allowed fraud charges against a Salem State University student to be dismissed last week.

The student, Levon Harewood, was charged with credit card fraud after allegedly attempting to make a purchase with another student’s SSU Clipper Card, which had been reported lost.

A judge allowed the fraud charges against Harewood to be dropped last week because the card is a debit card, not a credit card.

Keenan’s bill, filed Friday, inserts the words “debit card” into sections of Massachusetts law used to define and prosecute credit card fraud. Most likely, debit cards were not in existence when the laws were written, he said.

“This is a common-sense correction,” Keenan said yesterday. “... I think every once in a while we should look at legislation and see how it’s applicable to today’s world. It’s a relatively quick fix, and hopefully we’ll be able to get it through the Legislature.”

Harewood, 21, was also charged with shoplifting.

In court, Harewood’s lawyer, Heather Ramsey, pointed to state laws that define credit cards as “any instrument or device” that allows the user to obtain something “on credit.”

SSU Clipper Cards are prepaid, loaded with an amount of money that then enables students to use it in dining halls and to purchase other items on campus.

Judge Robert Brennan ruled that a debit transaction is “fundamentally different” than purchasing something on credit.

Keenan said he moved to close the debit/credit loophole after reading about Harewood’s court case in The Salem News.

“I thought it was a good idea,” he said. “... to clean up the language (to) make sure it doesn’t arise again.”

Keenan’s bill will be assigned to and vetted by committee — possibly the House Judiciary Committee, he said.

Keenan said he plans to testify before the committee to explain the bill’s purpose. From there, the committee will report on the bill and send it to the floor of the House.

The full process could take one year to 18 months, Keenan said.

“I don’t think it will be overly complicated,” he said. “I don’t anticipate problems.”