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Secret Service probing Wheeling debit card fraud

Friday, September 17, 2010

People in Wheeling are being warned about possible debit card fraud after more than 100 people have reported unauthorized withdrawals from their accounts.

The Secret Service has joined the investigation of the scam involving the theft of debit card numbers as more alleged victims came forward in the northwest suburbs.

Because several banks and possibly states are involved, Wheeling police say it is likely the feds will take over the investigation.

Police still do not know how so many debit card numbers and PINs were stolen and used to manufacture fake ATM cards. What they do know is that the number of victims continues to grow.

Over 150 and counting. Debit card fraud victims have been keeping the Wheeling Police busy all week.

The story is the same: residents used their debit card at a local business and then noticed large ATM withdrawals from their bank accounts.

"I brought up my account on computer, and it showed it cleared out," said Terry Brady.

Brady lives from paycheck to paycheck. He just got paid last Friday. Two days later the money was gone.

"That was all my money for my bills due this week, and now I have no money whatsoever," Brady said.

Brady's bank will reimburse him, but it will take two weeks. Dozens of victims say their bank statements show out-of-state ATM withdrawals.

"We found that there have been withdrawals in California, and needless to say we have not been in California," said Jeff van Craenenbroeck, fraud victim.

Because the fraud involves different states and multiple banks, the secret Service is investigating.

However, Wheeling Police say the common thread with all the victims is a local business.

"We're not going to give out the information, but we are following a retailer in Wheeling," said Deputy Chief John Teevans, Wheeling Police Department.

Police are not sure if the fraud is the work of one person or a nationwide hacking network. If an employee is involved, experts say something call a skimmer can be used to steal your debit card information.

"This is where you typically go to a merchant, and the bad guy is working at the merchant, and he'll run your card through an alternative device, which is a skimmer, which will capture some of the account information or some of the other data related to your account," said Joseph Hudson.

However, because the Wheeling case involves multiple banks, Hudson, with the Cook County state's attorney's consumer fraud division, says it appears this type of fraud is large and very sophisticated.

"That information is being transmitted electronically through merchant networks, then the info is intercepted by bad guys," Hudson said.

Hudson say computer hackers have become so sophisticated they can steal debit card numbers and PINs and manufacture a fake card in hours.

Because some victims have not used their cards in a month, investigators believe those responsible for the fraud may have been building a database.

For the record, the Cook County state's attorney's office is not involved in the investigation. Charges would come from the U.S. attorney.

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