It took only a couple of hours after filling up at a San Andreas gas station for local resident Al Lamore to receive notification that a $1 purchase had been made on his credit card at another gas station in Arizona.
Lamore was immediately able to deny that purchase, freeze his card and order a new one, avoiding any major losses. He alerted the business and filed a report with the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office on Oct. 23.
In recent weeks, the Sheriff’s Office has received three reports of card fraud at local businesses – all within a two-day period – including Pari Mart in San Andreas (where Lamore believes his information was stolen), Zippy Mart gas station and Burger King in Valley Springs.
However, many more have taken to social media to inform the public of similar experiences at those and other businesses in Calaveras County, with some claiming to have lost thousands before the situation was resolved.
“If it happened to me that easily, this is probably happening to a lot of people,” Lamore told the Enterprise. “A lot of people don’t have the gumption to go out and report these things. They just take the hit and move along. ... If we can network, maybe we can stop these guys or keep them away from us.”
Pari Mart owner Happi Kaur told the Enterprise on Nov. 4 that she has also lost money as a result of the fraudsters. After learning of the incident on Oct. 23, Kaur paid a technician $500 to open up each of her pumps, revealing foreign cables that had been installed inside, she said.
After the Sheriff’s Office took away the cables as evidence, Kaur placed locks on each of her four pumps, spending $150 per lock.
“And then, I lose a lot of business,” Kaur added.
Kaur has strong suspicions that the cables were installed in the pumps shortly before she opened her business in January. She said surveillance footage showed several men wearing hoodies get out of a technician-type truck with no license plates and open up the pumps.
According to Kaur, there was no indication of the fraudulent equipment inside the pumps that a user could detect from the outside. She believes many others were impacted before she was notified by a customer.
Although the business owner is confident that the locks will keep future scammers out, she has placed a sign on each of her pumps asking customers to use their debit cards inside the store for their own protection.
Another alleged case of card fraud at Burger King in Valley Springs was reported to the Sheriff’s Office on the same day of the incident at Pari Mart, though management at the restaurant was not aware of the report when the Enterprise inquired on Nov. 4.
The following day on Oct. 24, another incident was reported at Zippy Mart in Valley Springs. Management at the gas station had coincidentally planned to install new pumps just days later, and no other problems have arisen since, an employee at the gas station told the Enterprise.
Still, new complaints continue to spread on social media of card information getting stolen in Calaveras County, though victims are often unable to determine exactly which business it was stolen from.
Protecting your wallet
Rates of card fraud declined nationwide last year, according to a recent study by Javelin Strategy & Research, but “higher-impact fraud” types such as new account fraud, account takeover and misuse of non-card accounts are on the rise.
Nowadays, shoppers don’t need to physically use a card to have their identity stolen and their accounts hacked through more complex scams online, on the phone and through the mail.
Luckily, classic card-scanning fraud is often easier to evade, as individuals can take precautions such as paying inside, using cash or a designated card, and closely monitoring their purchases.
The Sheriff’s Office recommends inspecting a card reader and even taking time to jiggle the device before using it.
“When you use an ATM, check for some obvious signs of tampering at the top of the ATM, near the speakers, the side of the screen, the card reader itself, and the keyboard,” Sgt. Greg Stark with the Sheriff’s Office advised. “Even if you can’t see any visual differences, physically check to see if any of the parts are not secure. ATMs are solidly constructed and generally don’t have any loose parts.”
Choosing to use gas pumps and ATMs that are closest to the main building can also prevent fraud, he said, as units that are hidden from view are more likely to be tampered with.
Alternatively, individuals can change their method of payment as a means to thwart scammers. Paying with cash inside or using a credit card are safer ways to make purchases than using a debit card.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website, “If someone uses your ATM or debit card before you report it lost or stolen, your liability depends on how quickly you report it.”
If a debit card is reported stolen within two days of the victim learning of the theft, the victim is liable for up to $50 of fraudulent charges. After two days, liability can cost as much as $500. Past 60 days, a bank is not required to reimburse a victim at all.
With credit cards, however, liability tops out at $50, regardless of when the theft is reported.
Additionally, credit card users can set up fraud alerts via text, email and push notifications, which is strongly recommended by creditcards.com.
If a debit card is the only option, the FTC advises regularly checking transactions to promote early detection and always hiding one’s PIN from prying eyes.