Westman residents should check their accounts, police suggest, as a number of area residents have fallen victim to a debit card skimming scam in Winnipeg.
Westoba Credit Union confirmed yesterday that about 25 customers used their debit cards at Winnipeg merchants where the skimming is believed to have been done. Only some of those members are missing money, however.
"We did have a few members affected," said Westoba Credit Union marketing co-ordinator Britt Lawson. "What we’re seeing at this point, is that it was all at merchants in Winnipeg."
Authorities haven’t shared the names of those merchants, however.
Both the Brandon Police Service and Brandon area RCMP confirm that they’re looking into complaints of debit card fraud, although both forces released few details as they continue to investigate, and there’s no word of arrests yet.
"We’ve got some complaints that have come into our office from residents who live in the rural area," Blue Hills RCMP Staff Sgt. Mike Zens said on Tuesday. "It looks like it’s all occurred in Winnipeg."
So far, one person has reported to local RCMP that his or her account has been tampered with, although Zens said he expects to receive at least a few more.
BPS Const. Ron Burgess said that force is working with the Winnipeg Police Service as it investigates three complaints from Brandon. Again, the skimming seems to have happened in Winnipeg.
The Winnipeg Police Service reports that its Commercial Crime Unit is investigating, but no further information is available.
How much money the various victims have lost hasn’t been disclosed.
The CBC reported on Tuesday that as many as 600 Assiniboine Credit Union customers may have been victims, along with a number at other financial institutions.
Randa Stewart, vice-president of marketing and communications for that credit union, told the CBC that a point-of-purchase machine at an unnamed retail location was altered to scan for banking information. Unauthorized withdrawals were then made from the victims’ accounts.
On average, $400 went missing from accounts and the problem seems to have solely been with debit cards that were swiped, as opposed to purchases made using an embedded security chip.
Closer to Brandon, Lawson said 25 Westoba clients from several of the credit union’s branches used their cards at Winnipeg merchants where skimming at point-of-sale terminals is believed to have happened, although only some of those customers had money taken.
All affected clients have been notified, Lawson said and their cards will be replaced. Because Westoba Credit Union is insured against skimming, Lawson added, any clients who are missing money will be reimbursed.
There’s a variety of ways that skimming can work, and there’s no word at this point about how, precisely, the crooks managed to pull it off in this case.
In general, criminals have been known to steal point-of-sale machines from stores to replace them with identical re-engineered versions that read data, including the card owner’s PIN, from the magnetic strip on debit cards. The adjusted terminal stores the info and is recovered later by the criminals, who use the data to make counterfeit cards.
In 2010, debit card fraud in Canada resulted in a loss that totalled $115 million.
As protection from debit card fraud, Zens advises citizens to keep an eye on their account for any unauthorized purchases or withdrawals. They should also protect their PIN and change it often.
"Check your bank account on a regular basis, especially if you’ve gone on a shopping spree," Zens said.
Any problems should be reported to the card holder’s bank and to their local police agency.
Lawson also advises shoppers to use the chip in their card to make purchases, if their card has one. Westoba Credit Union is in the process switching its customers to cards that contain the chips, but not all of its members have cards equipped with them yet.
Not all merchants have point-of-purchase machines capable of reading a chip, Lawson also cautioned.
Protecting yourself from fraud
Skimmers will steal funds or make purchases with duplicated or stolen debit and credit cards. To protect yourself from skimming and card fraud:
• Always protect your Personal Identification Number (PIN)
• Destroy old or canceled cards
• Use chip-enabled cards for purchases whenever possible.
• Immediately sign the back of new cards
• Report lost or stolen cards
If you believe you have been the victim of skimming:
• Contact your branch or TeleService, as well as your credit card company
• File a police report
• Contact Equifax Canada and Trans Union Canada to request identity protection and your credit report
• Report identity theft and fraud to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre
» Westoba Credit Union
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 11, 2012