Wednesday, November 20, 2013/lk
OKANOGAN Reports of unauthorized use of credit and debit cards continue to roll in to local police agencies, but no pattern of use has emerged.
A number of people have been hit in recent weeks with credit and debit card charges they didn’t make.
After a Nov. 13 Chronicle story, police saw another spike in reports.
Many people don’t report improper card use since many unauthorized charges are handled between the cardholder and the issuing bank.
It’s been difficult for law enforcement to determine any sort of pattern, since the charges have come from all over the nation and overseas, both debit and credit cards have been compromised, several issuing banks and credit unions have had affected customers, different types of cards – Visa and Mastercard – are involved, and customers of all ages have been hit, Okanogan County Undersheriff Joe Somday said.
“The banks are investigating,” he said. Unauthorized card use “is spread out all over.”
Initially there was speculation that a “skimming device” might have been used. Such a device can be placed on a card scanner at a store or carried by hand.
Somday said that may not be the case, since one of the unauthorized use reports came from people who never used their debit cards, including one report from a man who said he kept his card in a drawer at his home.
Malott resident Linda Roby said her husband checked their bank account one day last week and confirmed money was there, but the next day the account had been cleaned out.
They hadn’t used their debit card, but its number had been used out of state.
She said his paycheck goes by direct deposit to a bank affiliated with his employer. He discovered several other employees were also hit.
Although the bank has agreed to credit the money back, until it does they’re in a financial fix.
A check from a different source came in right after the account was compromised, so they’ve got some money for living expenses.
They’re also having to change passwords and notify creditors that payments might be late.
Roby said she does eBay and Etsy selling, but the money is swept into the account, too, “so I can’t even get to my money.”
The Sheriff’s Office’s credit card also was hit with three fraudulent charges last week, Somday said.
Detective Rusty Tallant of the Omak Police Department agreed that the source of the compromise isn’t known.
“We’re not alone in this problem, though. It’s happening on a pretty broad scale,” he said, adding that one of his credit cards also was compromised.
“The banks have been pretty good” about staying on top of fraudulent charges and crediting customers’ accounts when unauthorized use is detected, he said.
Both Somday and Tallant suggested people keep a close eye on their statements and bank accounts, and alert card issuers to any suspicious activity.
From Nov. 11-15, the Sheriff’s Office received nine fraud complaints, including six involving debit or credit cards. One involved unauthorized withdrawals from a bank account and two didn’t specify the type of fraud in the online complaint log.
From Nov. 8-15, the Omak Police Department has fielded nine fraud reports, including two involving debit or credit cards, six with the type of fraud not specified in the online complaint log and one with an account opened using someone else’s personal information.
Local financial institutions say they’re investigating a number of fraud reports.
The federal Fair Credit Billing Act and Electronic Fund Transfer Act offer protection if credit, ATM or debit cards are lost or stolen.
Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, a cardholder’s liability for unauthorized use of a credit card tops out at $50.
If the loss is reported before the card is used, the cardholder isn’t responsible for any unauthorized use.
If only the card number is stolen, the cardholder isn’t liable for unauthorized use.
Under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, if an ATM or debit card is reported missing before someone uses it, the cardholder isn’t responsible for any unauthorized transactions.
If someone uses the card before it is reported lost or stolen, liability depends on how quickly the use is reported.
If unauthorized transactions are made with a debit card number, but the card is not lost, the cardholder isn’t liable for the transactions if they’re reported within 60 days of the statement being sent.