Monday, October 26, 2009

Card skimmers' prey shocked

• Operation victimizes hundreds in the city
• Police expect investigation to take months

By: Aldo Santin and Geoff Kirbyson
Winnipeg Free Press
October 22, 2009

Matthew Rietze has lost his trust in Canada's banking system.

The Winnipeg man went to buy lunch on Wednesday but, after he swiped his debit card, instead of receiving an "approved" message, the card reader denied the transaction and instructed him to contact his branch.

When he visited his Royal Bank location, he was informed somebody in Edmonton had withdrawn $800 from his account Tuesday evening. Whoever it was attempted a second withdrawal Wednesday afternoon but failed because Rietze's card had since been deactivated.

"I feel very violated. It has consumed me ever since I got back to my office from the bank. I know the bank will straighten it out but it's destroyed my trust to have my money in the bank. It's very disheartening," he said, noting he has been told it could take one to 10 business days to reimburse his account.

It turns out Rietze is one of hundreds of Winnipeggers to be victimized by a card-skimming operation currently under investigation by the Winnipeg Police Service.

Reagan Saunders said she learned Tuesday that money was removed from her account during two separate ATM transactions in Montreal on Monday.

"I went to Tim Hortons (Tuesday) but my purchase was denied," Saunders said, adding when she contacted the Royal Bank they told her that individuals using a fake debit card removed almost $1,000 from her account on Monday.

"They asked me a lot of security questions and I assured them I had not been on Montreal," Saunders said. "They told me the money was taken out of a bank machine in two separate occasions by someone using a debit card that appeared to belong to me."

Tracy, who didn't want her last name used, had nearly $1,000 withdrawn this week from her chequing account at Crosstown Civic Credit Union. She said even though the charges have already been reversed, she's rethinking how and where she'll use her debit card in the future.

"I felt a bit violated. It's a really distant kind of theft. It's not like somebody robbed me on the street but they got into my private account. It made me think about safety a lot more," she said.

Police said that a preliminary investigation has found that debit-card machine pin pads at several businesses have been compromised, with the information used in fraudulent purchases in eastern Canada.

Police said the investigation is expected to take several months and financial institutions in the city are co-operating.

Peter Enns, CEO of Crosstown Civic, said clients could fall into one of two categories. Either they had money withdrawn from their account due to card-skimming or Crosstown Civic's systems showed they used their card at a retailer where skimming was found to have occurred, regardless of whether their account was compromised. In the latter case, clients were asked to come into a branch to be issued a new card.

Enns said the debit cards in question have a magnetic stripe on the back as Crosstown Civic hasn't yet moved to chip debit cards, which are supposed to be infinitely more secure than outdated "mag stripe" technology. Chip debit cards are in the process of being sent out by a number of financial institutions.

Saunders said Royal Bank refunded the entire stolen amount back into her account by Tuesday afternoon and advised her to get a new debit card.

Saunders said the bank would not say how many other Winnipeggers it knew had been victimized, but added she was told she could expect to be contacted by police.

Police are advising that anyone who believes that their debit-card information has been used in a fraudulent purchase should contact their financial institution.

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