Tehachapi bank customers hit by jump in debit card hacking

Tehachapi bank customers hit by jump in debit card hacking »Play Video
TEHACHAPI, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - More than 90 bank customers in the Tehachapi area have been the victims of bank card fraud. Both Kern County Sheriff deputies and Tehachapi police say they're investigating a rash of these crimes over the last two weeks, and they can't find a common link to track down how the account information is being stolen.

"About two weeks ago my son-in-law went out and had breakfast at a local restaurant," April Biglay told Eyewitness News. "About four or five hours later, the ATM card numbers were attempted to be used at a Home Depot in Georgia."

Biglay says he was immediately contacted by Wells Fargo Bank.

Wells Fargo has only a kiosk in Tehachapi. Her daughter also has an account with that bank, and she was also a victim just this week. Again, Wells Fargo called.

"They contacted her about her credit card numbers, being used at a Target (store) near Chino," Biglay said. And that's not all -- her son-in-law has a friend who's been a victim, and they know a neighbor who's also suffered.

Biglay says her son-in-law's account information was apparently used on a bogus debit card, which the suspects attempted to swipe and make a purchase. But, it was declined.

Kern County Sheriff Sgt. Rick Wood said his department has about 50 similar reports in the last two weeks. It's a big case, and it's a baffling one.

They usually see a handful debit cards being compromised, and they can track down the source of the crime.

"We're able to trace them to some common place where maybe a card was skimmed or an employee is copying numbers," Wood said. But, not this time.

"It's so huge and widespread that we don't have a grasp on it," Sgt. Wood said. Investigators also can't tell how the customer accounts are being compromised.

"We've had victims who've had their card copied -- or the information copied -- while they were out of state, and weren't using their card," Wood said. "So we're just not sure it's a card-skimming type situation right now."

Between the banks identified by Sgt. Wood and those mentioned by victims, Eyewitness News counts six local banks where customers have reported thefts.

Wood said in most of the cases they're investigating, the stolen account information was used in West Sacramento, Los Angeles, or the Orange County coast areas. Usually on bogus cards.

"In one case, the suspects went in with the fraudulent debit card, and bought a Nordstrom's gift card," Wood explained. He said in other instances, the stolen account numbers were used to buy liquor, beauty products, and in one situation -- $150 worth of food at a McDonald's.

Tehachapi Police Chief Jeff Kermode tells Eyewitness News they've had 41 similar cases reported since July 1. He said most came in by July 12, but reports have continued to trickle in.

And it is a spike. For comparison, Tehachapi Police had one similar case in June, and none in May.

Chief Kermode agreed, no one has been able to find a common link to the account information thefts.

"I just want people in town to know this is happening," Biglay said. She hopes that'll help prevent some of the crimes. And for now, she'll check her bank information more often to keep an eye on her accounts.

Chief Kermode said some victims are finding out they've been hit only after getting their bank statement, or when they try to use their debit card and it's declined. But many customers are notified by their bank when an attempt is made to use their account information.

Kermode said bank fraud units are investigating.

Eyewitness News contacted several banks, but didn't hear back yet. A Wells Fargo spokeswoman said she had no information on how many of their customers are affected by the current crimes in Tehachapi, the bank tries to help customers prevent identity theft.

"Some elderly people have been hit," Biglay worries, "now they feel like they can't use their ATM card." She's concerned about the most vulnerable customers.

Though with her family, Wells Fargo quickly sent out new cards with new account numbers. She's grateful for that.

Wood says the case is troubling.

"The scope of this makes us think that maybe it was something going on where somebody is using some sophisticated method of copying these (bank account) numbers. We just don't know," Wood said.

"Ultimately we hope the banks will look into this," the sergeant added. "They are the victims over all, because they have to reimburse their
customers."

Chief Kermode said some video has been obtained of bogus cards being used at locations outside of Kern County. He said investigators are in the early stages of working with that information.