As more reports of bank card fraud pour in, Statesboro Police and Bulloch County Sheriff’s investigators continue to work with the United States Secret Service to determine who the culprits are and how they are committing the crimes.
Several banks in the Statesboro area have been targeted — Heritage Bank, Citizens Bank, Sea Island Bank, The Heritage Bank of the South (and the former First Southern National Bank, with which it merged), Farmers & Merchants Bank, GeoVista Credit Union, BB&T and Core Credit Union have all had customers report unauthorized charges.
As detectives and investigators work on the case, more reports poured in Wednesday. Statesboro Police Major Scott Brunson said Det. Sgt. James Winskey was investigating 21 cases where Statesboro residents were victims, while Bulloch County Sheriff’s Inv. Jared Akins listed more than 40 cases with county area victims.
Almost all the cases involve fraudulent charges in Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky. Some charges have been made in Arkansas, Maryland and other nearby states in the northeast, according to reports.
At this time, it is not known how the account information is being obtained, Akins said. Since the issue is so unusual and involves several states, the U.S. Secret Service has stepped in to lead the investigation, working with local law enforcement, he said.
Brunson advised citizens with bank accounts to monitor their accounts at least daily to make sure there are no fraudulent charges.
“People should still monitor, still report the incidents, and we are still working on (solving the crimes),” he said.
Akins said there are lots of common denominators between victims, “and we’re still trying to run them down.” In the meantime, more reports come in daily where area residents have found someone cleaned out their bank accounts.
All cases in the area involve Bulloch County, except one case in Screven County, he said. However, similar crimes are occurring nationwide.
Although it is not known yet how the offenders are obtaining account numbers, Akins said there are at least three ways possible.
One scenario would mean there is an inside person in a local business providing credit and debit card numbers to others who use them to manufacture fake cards, then sell or use them.
Another possibility is a breach in security at a business that processes bank card charges for local businesses, he said. A third way criminals can steal your funds is scanning ATM transactions or bank cards, sending the information to a person with a laptop within wireless Internet distance.
Either way, the accounts numbers may be sold to those who make the fake credit and debit cards. There are even chat rooms designated for selling the stolen numbers, he said.
The problem is that the people operating these chat rooms are often out of the country, where United States law has no jurisdiction, according to Akins.
While it is inconvenient to have someone hack into your bank account and take your money, most banks will work with customers to restore their losses.
Trish Tootle, spokesperson for Farmer’s & Merchants bank, said the bank’s “main focus is for the protection of our customers.”
A fraud protection service similar to those at other banks alerts the bank of any suspicious activity, such as charges in another state or multiple transactions in a short time period, she said.
The protection service FM&B uses also tried to alert customers themselves, she said. “Once the fraud protection service notifies the bank of any suspicious activity, we immediately place the card in an inactive status.” Then, the bank contacts the customer to verify whether the charges are fraudulent. If the customer is indeed a victim, they must pay a visit to the bank for paperwork to document the fraud. The bank gives customers provisional credit for unauthorized or fraudulent transactions.
As an added measure, the bank has blocked certain states form signature-based transactions to protect customers from the recent scams. Cards may still be used for PIN (personal identification number) transactions, she said.
Like Brunson, Akins and Tootle recommend frequent monitoring of your account.
“In our world of technology, there is always the chance of fraud,” Tootle said.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.