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Debit card skimming suspected in St. Paul

Businesses warned to watch for separate debit/credit card schemes

Jan 14, 2014 11:45 am | Janice Huser

Many local residents trying to do some last-minute Christmas shopping on Dec. 23 ended up stuck in long line-ups at various banks in St. Paul, as financial institutions took steps to safeguard clients after debit card skimming was suspected in the area.

According to Adam Russell, the branch manager at the St. Paul ATB Financial, all banks in St. Paul were affected by the suspected debit card skimming. He explains that skimming is “basically when your personal information on your debit card . . . is skimmed off of your card.”

Banks often catch the skimming when two separate transactions occur on a card, but in two very different places. The first transaction is the actual purchase being made by the cardholder, while the second transaction is being done somewhere else, often in Eastern Canada, says Russell.

Once the skimming is suspected, banks will freeze debit cards within the surrounding area of the location where the skimming took place. Although banks aren’t made aware of the specific location the skimming occurred, and the subsequent investigation is left to the RCMP, Russell did confirm that because banks typically notify all cardholders within five to 10 miles of the location, and St. Paul is a rather small community, the suspected skimming would have occurred locally.

“Five miles is our whole town,” says Russell, adding, about 80 per cent of cardholders were notified.

Russell recommends three things to keep in mind to safeguard against debit card skimming. First, cardholders should look at the debit card machine they are using to purchase items. If it doesn’t look to be in good-working condition, “don’t use it.”

The second thing to do is change your debit card pin number every six months. The more personalized a pin number is, the safer it will be, says Russell.

The third thing is to make sure your personal information is up to date at your bank. Some people were upset that they didn’t receive a phone call and only realized their card was frozen when they attempted to use it, says Russell, adding, if the bank doesn’t have your current phone number on hand, it can’t reach you in these instances.

“You do those three things and you’ll be fine,” says Russell.

Merchant issues

Local businesses are also being warned to watch out for suspicious behavior when it comes to the use of debit and credit cards. According to a press release from the Saskatoon Police Service, two separate groups of people are believed to be operating in that area using two specific methods that result in businesses suffering financial loss.

Brad Belton, controller at the St. Paul Co-op, confirmed that similar issues are being seen in St. Paul.

According to the press release, one group is manually entering credit card data in place of what appears to be a debit card transaction when paying for goods. The second group is using counterfeit credit cards that contain data from real cards.

Businesses are being asked to watch for credit cards that don’t have legitimate security features like holograms and chip technology, according to Saskatoon Police.

The press release recommends that, “potential victims, essentially anyone with credit or debit cards, should carefully monitor their account activities and report unknown or suspicious charges to their financial institutions.” Often, charges are made in small amounts in hopes that the missing funds will go unnoticed.

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