By AMANDA KIMBLE
ERATH COUNTY (August 23, 2016) – They’re victims of debit or credit card fraud. They’ve voiced their frustration on Facebook. And a large number of them allege their information was stolen at the same location.
Over the last few months, a number of individuals have turned to the internet to warn fellow consumers of their misfortune. Many of them, whose last known purchases were at any of several area Allsup’s Convenience Stores, attribute subsequent unauthorized charges to the New Mexico-based corporation and card readers attached to their fuel dispensers.
The Flash sat down with Stephenville police to determine if there has been an upsurge in similar fraud cases and if the convenience store chain is at fault.
Only one thing is certain, according to Stephenville Police Chief Jason King. He said the department has received several reports of credit/debit card fraud over the last few months.
“And we will continue to receive them,” King said. “These types of crimes will not go away, but they will become more sophisticated.”
Con artists and crooks will stop at nothing to bilk others of their hard earned money. Whether the theft is facilitated through the hacking of computer data bases, skimming of credit or debit card information using devices that can easily be purchased online or through the old-fashioned method of jotting down card numbers, debit and credit card fraud occurs daily around the globe.
“Stephenville isn’t immune to the problem,” King said, adding officers who spearhead financial crime investigation have always been busy. “I wouldn’t say the problem is on the rise here any more than it is anywhere. But, I definitely don’t think there’s a bubble around Stephenville.”
Skimming is a process by which thieves steal credit or debit card information using a device that affixes to a card reader, oftentimes blending in with existing equipment well enough that consumers never notice the device.
There may be local victims, but police can’t say perpetrators are skimming data or that they live nearby.
Card holders may have made a local purchase just moments or days before fraudulent charges were made, but Lt. Doug McClammy said it’s rare for consumers, law enforcement officials, credit card companies or banks to know exactly when or where the theft occurred.
McClammy speaks from firsthand experience – as a member of law enforcement and a victim. He was one of a few local police officers whose banking information was recently stolen. While he purchases gasoline and other goods locally, McClammy suspects online shopping was to blame.
“I had to cancel all of my cards and get new ones,” McClammy said. “Yes, it’s a pain and this type of crime is definitely a problem, but there’s no real way to know how or when this happened.”
Breaches of online data occur fairly frequent, and a single incident has the ability to reach a wide range of consumers. In 2013, when Target reported more than 40 million customers had been affected when the retailer’s database was hacked.
For police, investigating debit or credit card abuse was once simpler.
“It used to be that a stolen credit card was in the possession of the person who took it,” he said, “And that card was most likely taken during a burglary of a motor vehicle and used at a local business. We could look at surveillance video and see where it was used and who was using it.”
Assistant Police Chief Jason Hulsey said a recent case out of Houston involved the theft of credit card information and subsequent use of duplicate cards. The thieves never possessed their victims’ cards, they used stolen credit card numbers and coded the stolen information onto other cards using devices that can be bought online. The process is similar to methods once used to create counterfeit checks using victims’ bank account and routing numbers, albeit more technologically advanced
“It was pretty big operation,” Hulsey said.
In an unrelated local case, a female victim reported a number of local charges on her credit card, which she still had in her possession.
“So, you can see why it would be wrong, unfair to tie any of these incidents to Allsup’s or any other location,” King added.
Allsup’s agrees. A representative of the corporation, which now includes almost 320 stores, also addressed the allegations.
Jeff Scarbrough, Allsup’s spokesman, said the convenience store chain’s corporate staff has been following Facebook posts on Erath County Breaking News and Erath County Rant and Rave related to the business. He agreed blaming corporation was unfair and unfounded.
“This is a huge issue in the retail industry, not just in the gasoline business or when paying at the pump,” Scarborough said, adding Allsup’s corporate offices organized a direct and immediate response to the negative press and found no problems at any of company’s area stores.
“We immediately sent a representative of Tesco to inspect the exterior pumps in Stephenville, Dublin and De Leon,” he said. “They went through every one of our dispensers and did not locate a single skimmer.”
Abilene-based Tesco Equipment is the convenience store chain’s equipment distributor. Tesco is also a service provider for VeriFone point of sale, the credit/debit card readers attached to the fuel pumps, and Dresser Wayne dispensers, the gasoline pumps.
The security review didn’t stop there. Allsup’s corporate staff sent technicians to inspect all of the credit/debit card readers located inside of each of the stores.
“There were no issues with compromised pin pads inside or outside of those stores,” Scarbrough said. “We don’t have any issues with skimming units. If we did, the number of people affected due to the traffic at those stores would be exponential.”
Scarbrough also said there are additional practices implemented daily, including exterior card readers that are secured in locked units and regular equipment inspections by local staff and management.
“Payment card industries have standards and steps in place that we must follow to keep credit card information secure,” Scarbrough said.
“Card users are also typically asked to enter the billing zip code to complete their purchase,” King added. “One of our officers has spoken with someone in corporate security and they were well on top things. There is no doubt they have their own internal checks in place.”
Scarbrough said consumers should be aware Allup’s Convenience Stores takes security and the protection of consumer data very serious.
“The steps we go through to secure data are significant and very expensive,” Scarbrough said, adding credit card fraud is an expense retailers cannot afford risk. “Mastercard and Visa does not care about credit card fraud, that is paid by the retailer.”
Meanwhile, King said federally insured banks end up footing the bill when debit card abuse is confirmed.
But even as cybercrime and con artists continue to evolve, there are several steps consumers can take to help protect themselves.
Law enforcement officials suggest monitoring your bank account regularly. Most banking institutions offer internet banking and many have apps that can be installed on wireless devices.
“The best thing anyone can do is be cautious and stay aware,” McClammy said.
When a security breach has been detected, officials said card holders should immediately contact the financial institution that issued the credit or debit card.
“You want to first make sure the account can no longer be used,” King said. “If you live here in town, give us a call.”
“You can also check your credit to be sure no new accounts have been opened in your name,” Lt. Paula Claunch said, adding there are free services like Credit Karma that will not impact your credit rating when you make an annual inquiry.
For consumers looking for more certain ways of safeguarding their account information, King offered a suggestion.
“The only way to fully protect yourself is to remember cash is king,” he said.