Parking-scam charges depend on bank info | AspenTimes.com

Parking-scam charges depend on bank info

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

Cale America workers Dan Culliton and Steve Rochon install one of Aspen's new parking meters at the corner of Original Street and East Hyman last winter. The City spent about $600,000 on the new meter system following roughly $800,000 in revenue losses due to a glitch with the previous system. On Monday, city council discussed raising parking rates during peak seasons as one way to reduce traffic.

Whether the Aspen Police Department can identify and charge offenders in a recent parking-meter scam will depend heavily on information from the banks that issued the debit cards used to fleece the system, an official said Thursday.

Aspen's parking meters, which were replaced in November for about $600,000, were susceptible to a scam where drivers used maxed-out debit cards to gain access to free parking. The city estimates lost revenue between $600,000 and $800,000 since 2010.

Police have compiled a list of debit cards that registered the most declined transactions between September 2013 and November 2014, with the No. 1 card racking up $7,035 in unpaid parking and 177 cards each posting amounts greater than $1,000. Police spokeswoman Blair Weyer said confidence is "neutral" on the potential for charges.

Investigators will first have to determine whether any personal information can be linked to the cards. Orders to produce records will be subject to a judge's approval, and upon receiving the orders, the issuing banks have 30 days to comply. Given that the majority of the cards are prepaid debit cards, Weyer said the department doesn't know whether banks will even have personal information on purchasers.

"That remains to be seen, and we will find out when we get information back from the banks," she said. "If the information leads (investigators) to a particular person, a particular retail store, they would likely investigate further. Again, we don't know what information we'll even get. We could get little-to-no information from those banks, and we could get more than we anticipated."

When asked what the probable cause for arrest would be, even if card purchasers are identified, Weyer said she couldn't speculate based on the amount of information investigators hold.

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"Officers have to have probable cause to make any arrest," she said. "That is something they have to be willing to stand behind in court, so that's a high level of confidence in arrests they're making."

More than 4,000 cards were included in the report received from Global Pay, the company that tracked Aspen's transactions. The top 10 cards totaled about $48,450 in declined transactions, ranging from $3,765 to more than $7,000. Finance Department estimates show that widespread fraud began two years ago, with losses of $37,800 in 2011 and $78,036 in 2012 before ballooning to $227,220 in 2013 and about $460,000 in 2014.

herk@aspentimes.com

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