Credit card fraud pops up in Mower, Freeborn Counties

It can happen anywhere.

Credit card fraud or skimming reports have been received by Mower and Freeborn County Sheriff’s Offices with cases in both counties.

Credit card skimming is when someone has placed a device over the top of a reader or replaced it to make it appear as the original reader and when a card is swiped through, it collects the data from the card’s magnetic strip. A pinhole camera can also be attached to the reader or above the number pad and see what PIN numbers you’re punching in, Chief Deputy Mark May said.

May also reported Home Federal Savings Bank in Austin has recently been the victim of credit card fraud, losing up to “thousands of dollars” in cases. Home Federal has received a lot of transactions or getting a lot of phony cards back and they’re not sure where it was coming from, May added.

“I looked in our report history and there were a few of them,” May said. “We’ve still got some ongoing cases involving credit cards, we’re not sure if it’s a skimmer or data breach from Target or one of those things in the past.”

May said there are active investigations as to how the card numbers are getting stolen.

Home Federal President Tom Klapperich urged caution.

“No one has any idea how they got the numbers,” Klapperich said. “There’s really no way to prevent it. Clients should be looking at their account regularly to make sure there’s no strange transactions.”

He added it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and make sure your card is in your possession at all times.

May echoed this and said it’s important to check your credit score with a reputable source, check your statement and notify your credit card company immediately if you have been scammed. They can cancel the card immediately and they will probably require you to file a police report with local law enforcement.

“Some of the ways to tell, before you’re using that credit card [in] the reader [is to] grab on it. Is it affixed firmly to the machine? Is it the same color? Does it look like it was built with the machine?” May said.

May warned to look for anything suspicious, especially at outdoor card readers like at gas pumps or outdoor ATMs.

“It can be anywhere. If you go somewhere to insert your card and something doesn’t look right about the machine, cancel the transaction, go inside to use the card or use the reader on the countertop because it’s less likely that someone’s tampered with the one sitting right there,” May said.

Fraud does not only occur at gas stations or ATMs, it can happen at restaurants when you give the waitstaff your card. May said you can ask them to bring the credit card machine to the table or ask to pay up front where you can see what they’re doing with your card.

He added it’s important to know the restaurants you’re at, if you’ve been there before and if you have had any previous issues there.

“Be cognitive of where you’re using your credit card and what the reader looks like,” May said.

Most businesses monitor their machines with cameras and some gas stations are 24/7, so it’s harder for people to change out the readers, May said.

Freeborn County Sheriff Kurt Freitag also advised caution last week after seeing some skimming cases in the Albert Lea area.

He advised looking at two identical gas pumps or ATMs for differences in the card reader. If there are, do not use them, he said.

Proximity scanning is also a danger, Freitag said. A magnetic strip can be used to pull bank card information from a close proximity to you. He advised buying and wearing a protective wallet to prevent it.

Though skimming has been a national issue for years and they don’t occur as frequently in smaller populated counties, they’re still a concern, Freitag said.

He added he’s also seen corrupt employees defraud customers. If the clerk says to you they need to use a different counter to conduct a sale, walk with them and do not conduct the sale if the clerk refuses to let you, Freitag advised.

—Reporter Sam Wilmes contributed to this report.

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