Aspen police see spike in credit-card fraud | AspenTimes.com
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Aspen police see spike in credit-card fraud

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – The Aspen Police Department has been dealing with a rash of reports of credit-card fraud over the past three to four weeks – some 50 cases since the last week of February.

So far, there is no common thread linking the cases, said Sgt. Dan Davis, one of several local policemen who have been fielding the calls. However, Davis acknowledged the possibility that someone locally has been obtaining the numbers, fabricating credit cards and distributing them to people outside of the area.

In fact, Davis himself was a victim. Someone used his credit-card account to make a $300 purchase in Mexico earlier this month.

“We’re not sure how this is happening,” Davis said. “There’s a lot of different ways people can obtain your number. It could be a skimming operation – somebody over a period of time could have skimmed the numbers. We know that the cards are being duplicated because the same cards are being used in different parts of the country at the same time.”

He said it’s possible that someone hacked into a computer system to steal credit- and debit-card numbers. Another scenario would be that an employee of a particular local business obtained the numbers during the course of business. But as of now, police can’t point to the culprit or the method.

The purchases are typically small, less than $100, and target specific items in lieu of charges for cash, Davis said. But a few have topped the $1,000 mark, he said.

“We don’t have anything right now that we can nail down as the common denominator,” he said. “We’re looking into it. The difficult thing for us is we don’t have a lot of the resources that a lot of bigger cities have, the computer technology and technology experts.”

Another issue is that nearly all of the purchases are being made outside of the Aspen Police Department’s jurisdiction, in other cities, states and countries, Davis said.

“Even though we take an initial report that the credit card was used fraudulently, the reality is the crime actually occurs in jurisdictions where the fraud was committed,” he said.

Aspenite Bridget Bielinski said somone used her credit card number Friday to ring up $890 in purchases at a Walmart in Orem, Utah. The card had not been lost or stolen, she said.

Her card number had been encoded onto an actual card, she said. She reported the fraudulent transaction to Aspen police, she said, with the hope that the department will find out if there is some type of fraud ring operating locally and shut it down.

“Most people, when they are the victims of credit-card fraud, because the (credit-card issuers) take care of it so easily and so quickly, don’t think about making police reports,” Bielinski said. “I’m concerned that there is something happening in our area, that people have access to this information at a business we’re all frequenting or something.”

She said a few of her co-workers also have been victimized within the past couple of weeks.

The Better Business Bureau offers these tips for people who believe they are the victims of credit-card fraud:

• Contact the bank or company that issued the card. Card issuers typically have a 24-hour hotline for consumers to report fraud and theft. If a cardholder waits too long to report the matter to the financial institution, they could lose everything in the account.

• Contact the authorities. Police reports are helpful in confirming the nature of the fraudulent charges with card issuers and credit-reporting bureaus.

• Contact credit-reporting bureaus. Equifax, Experian and TransUnion can flag an account for fraudulent activities. They are required to contact the cardholder before any new lines of credit are opened.

• Stay vigilant. Consumers should follow up calls to their card issuer and credit-reporting bureau with a letter outlining key details. They also should review credit reports with all three bureaus as a way of catching any suspicious activity. Consumers are encouraged to keep a close eye on credit-card statements and bank accounts, as well.

The bureau recently reported that Colorado topped all states in 2011 in the per-capita rate of fraud reports, which include credit-card fraud. In addition, Colorado ranked 11th in the category of identity-theft complaints.

Davis said anyone who believes they have been victimized by credit-card fraud should call the department at 970-920-5400 and also the law-enforcement agency with jurisdiction over the area in which the crime occurred.

asalvail@aspentimes.com


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