Even local law enforcement were not immune to the recent rash of credit-card fraud that reportedly victimized hundreds of Bishop residents through sophisticated cybercrime techniques.
Police Chief Chris Carter said Monday that his bank account had also been illegally accessed by a thief or thieves who had remotely and electronically obtained his credit or debit card number.
According to the chief, he was among as many as 200 local residents whose card numbers had been illegally used.
The thefts first came to light March 5 when several residents reported their predicament to The Inyo Register, which, in turn made inquiries to the Bishop PD. At the time, the PD said it was unaware of any increase in identity theft or credit/debit card thefts, and said if residents don’t report the crimes, the PD can’t investigate.
A Register article was published March 7 encouraging victims of identity theft and fraud to report the crimes in the hopes the PD could establish any patterns useful to an investigation.
According to Carter, as of Monday, the PD had received reports from 150-200 residents claiming to have had their debit/credit card information stolen.
As a result of those reports, and as the PD hoped, investigators were able to establish a pattern among the victims: they all had used their debit/credit cards at the same stores.
“The most prominent locations that have emerged are Vons grocery store and gas station, Smart and Final and Dwayne’s Pharmacy, all in Bishop,” Carter said. “These crimes are not the fault of any of these merchants and do not appear to have been committed by employees of the businesses.”
Carter said the thefts typically involve computer hackers who steal credit/debit card information by hacking a database of a retailer. The hackers then sell the information to other criminals who utilize the numbers to make fraudulent cards and then purchase goods and services in other locations.
Carter told the City Council Monday that the thieves generally use what is being called a “probe” purchase – an attempt to use the card for a small amount – before making larger purchases.
“If the probe purchase is successful, the criminals will then make a larger purchase using the same card,” the press release states. “Fortunately, most Banks and Financial Institutions have Fraud Departments who are able to detect this type of activity and prevent further fraudulent purchases.”
Carter said that victims have reported that their accounts were used to make purchases in foreign countries, including Canada and South Africa.
“Most people are becoming aware of these fraudulent uses after being notified by their bank or credit card company,” Carter said Monday evening during his regular report to the Bishop City Council. He added that most of the people who have filed reports with the PD have said that their banks have reimbursed them.
Carter said the PD is working with Federal Authorities and Vons Corporate Security in an attempt to identify the suspect(s) in these crimes.
Through conversations with Federal Authorities, Carter said the PD has learned that this type of crime, called “carding,” is widespread and on the rise.
“The Bishop Police Department will continue to cooperate with Federal Authorities in this investigation and will make every effort to keep the public informed of our progress,” the press release states. “In the interim, we encourage people to take protective measures, pay close attention to you debit and credit card statements and report to us and your bank if you have been the victim of credit/debit card fraud.”
Carter suggested that residents take “protective measures” such as utilizing a single credit card with Fraud Protection for purchases, writing a paper check in lieu of using a debit or credit card and using a debit card as “credit” where the input of a Personal Identification Number is not required. “You don’t want your card number and your PIN number out there together,” he said.
Bishop Councilmember Jim Ellis also said residents are encouraged to go online before bed each day and check their bank statement to ensure no unauthorized charges have been made.