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Fraud impacts local residents

Police say there hasn’t been an increase in crime

— Several area residents have been hit in recent weeks with credit and debit charges they didn’t make, and one victim says she’s now on a crusade to make people aware of card fraud.

Police say they haven’t noticed an upswing in reports of fraud, but that may be because many unauthorized charges are handled between the cardholder and bank.

Resident M’Lissa Clark said her debit card number was used to buy $222 in cash cards at a store in Pennsylvania. She was alerted by Coulee Dam Federal Credit Union of the unusual activity.

Since she never uses the card online and rarely uses it in stores, she’s convinced someone with a card-skimming device must have been sweeping customers at local stores. She said she did use the card recently at a couple Omak-Okanogan locations.

“This scares me to death,” she said. “People live by debit and credit cards these days.”

Clark said she’s fearful retired people might not pick up on fraudulent card use as quickly as others and may not have the means to cover unauthorized charges.

She said one friend had a similar experience, as did the son of another friend.

“This is a small town,” she said. “I want to get the word out.”

Okanogan County Undersheriff Joe Somday said his office hasn’t seen a rise in reports recently.

Card fraud “is not rampant here,” he said.

Some of the victims aren’t convinced.

Besides her card and those of her friends, Clark said she’s heard of “20 or 30 more” people with pilfered card numbers.

Shannon Burge, vice president of technology and electronic services with the credit union, said there has been an increase in fraudulent card number use in the mid-valley, Republic and Grand Coulee areas the past few weeks. She said she’s not sure if there are patterns, since investigations are still under way.

It’s possible a skimming device might have been placed on a scanner at a store, but that’s speculation, she said. A hand-held device also might be a possibility.

Burge said such thefts are on the rise across the nation.

Clark said she reported her card number theft twice to Omak police.

Police Clerk Tommye Robbins confirmed the department is investigating a report of card number misuse.

According to complaint logs, the Sheriff’s Office gets three or four card-related calls a week, county-wide, and Omak police usually field one or two calls. Some of the calls are for stolen cards, some for compromised numbers.

Chase spokeswoman Darcy Wilmont said she’s not aware of any current widespread misuse of card numbers.

“I know there are scammers. People should be mindful of their information and how they share it,” she said.

“As consumers, we’re somewhat protected – if you report it,” Somday said. “But if you don’t check your statements, you won’t know.”

The federal Fair Credit Billing and Electronic Fund Transfer acts offer protection if credit 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 a 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. A lot of banks and card companies use data processing centers, so information is kept on a global basis, Somday said.

“True ID theft is pretty rare here,” Somday said.

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