About 85 cases of debit and credit card fraud have been reported to local police in the past two weeks, and that is likely a fraction of the affected individuals.
Fraudulent charges on Pullman-based accounts have occurred in a variety of cities and states such as New Jersey and Florida, Sgt. Sam Sorem of the Pullman Police Department said. In addition, there have been cases involving overseas transactions in cities such as Paris.
The number of reported cases is expected to grow as the investigation continues, he said.
Due to the large volume of cases, Pullman investigators are working with the United States Secret Service, Sorem said. They believe the point of compromise goes beyond a single physical location in Pullman.
While some of the fraudulent charges have been online purchases, others have been on-site transactions involving cards reproduced from the Pullman accounts, according the police department’s press release.
“People (in Pullman) are using cards normally,” Sorem said. “They are not doing anything wrong.”
Most banks do not require victims of fraud to report it to the police, Sorem said.
Due to the large volume of cases and the lack of knowledge of how the accounts were compromised, he said the police are asking individuals affected by recent fraud to report it to the Pullman Police Department if they have not done so already. Police are also requesting account statements from the last two months to help with the investigation.
This type of fraud is unavoidable unless people pay completely in cash, Sorem said. The best advice to students is to check their statement every day.
“Several police officers have been hit, as well,” Sorem said.
He said he had fraudulent charges on his personal bank account last week. Someone attempted to use his debit card at a Walmart in Phillipsburg, N.J.
The Pullman Police Department received between 50 and 60 reports of fraudulent credit and debit card use by Friday afternoon, Sorem said.
During the weekend, the police department received about 15 additional reports of fraud, according to the department’s daily police log.
The WSU Police Department also received seven to 10 reports of fraud, Lt. Steve Hansen said.
A few cases were reported to the Whitman County Sheriff’s Office by people who live out of town, Undersheriff Ron Rockness said. They passed the cases on to the Pullman Police Department.
Senior German major Ashley Kunz said she realized something was wrong with her bank account last Wednesday when she tried to buy groceries at Safeway and the Moscow Food Co-op and her card was declined in both places. When she checked her online statement, she saw that her account, which previously had about $1,200, was empty.
“I was in shock,” she said. “I had no idea what happened.”
The charges that drained her account were at stores in West Palm Beach, Fla., like Walmart and other grocery stores, she said.
She filed a fraud case with her bank this weekend, and they reimbursed the stolen money. For several days following the fraudulent charges, though, she was unable to buy groceries or pay her bills.
“That was all my money for everything,” she said. “They wiped me out entirely.”
Erik Walker, a senior animal science major, also had fraudulent charges on his debit card.
The charges were all in Miami, Fla., he said. His bank caught the inconsistency almost immediately and froze his account. By freezing his account, the bank stopped a fraudulent transaction of $345 from occurring.
“I hope everyone else is watching for transactions on their card,” he said.
Neither Walker nor Kunz filed a police report because their bank took care of the issue, but both said they are considering it in order to help with the larger investigation.
The U.S. Bank branch located in the CUB has had several students come in recently and report fraudulent charges, said Ben Gecas, assistant manager of the CUB branch.
“People get fraudulent charges on their cards all the time but there has been an increase in recent weeks,” Gecas said.
Normally the bank does not require their clients to report fraud to the police, he said, but because of the recent string of fraud cases they are encouraging their clients to file a police report.