Police investigate possible “skimmer” fraud

There’s still no confirmation on which local gas station was hit with a skimmer device that led to hundreds of unauthorized cash withdrawals recently, but police in Aberdeen and Hoquiam have started investigations into the issue.

Because of the uncertainty regarding which location was affected, police have advised citizens to closely monitor their financial accounts for fishy activity and report unauthorized charges to their financial institution and local police department.

The Hoquiam Police Department said it received eight fraud reports Monday from residents who had their debit cards compromised and used in the past few days. The stolen debit card information was used to withdraw cash from machines in Seattle, Des Moines, Redmond, Lacey and Yakima, with most transactions between $400 and $800, Hoquiam Police Chief Myers said in a press release.

Lieutenant C.J. Chastain at the Aberdeen Police Department said they received four or five reports Tuesday morning, and said those who reported are being referred to their banking institution first to complete fraud paperwork and obtain copies related to the questionable transactions. He added that none of the reports have included someone actually observing a skimming device in the area.

“The banks should be able to provide details about the suspected fraudulent activity, so our investigators will be able to hopefully get a more clear picture of a common denominator on how the information might have been compromised,” said Chastain in an email.

A skimmer is an illegal card reader, which thieves can use by opening up a gas pump payment slot, or an ATM, and attaching a small strip of wires and electronic chips so it records customers’ credit and debit card information. The thieves can then take the card information and use it to create new cards and withdraw money from the victim’s account.

So far, the Hoquiam investigation suggests skimmers were installed on local gas pumps in the Hoquiam and Aberdeen area, Myers wrote.

He said it appears most of the victims had accounts with TwinStar Credit Union, but that it’s possible other local financial institutions were also hit.

“Detectives are working to pin down the dates and locations of where the debit cards may have been skimmed in order to retrieve video surveillance,” Myers wrote.

TwinStar Credit Union’s Matt Devlin, vice president of marketing, confirmed Monday there was a skimmer found at a gas station pump in the Grays Harbor area, but declined when asked for a specific gas station affected. He said the skimmer affected hundreds of TwinStar customers who used the tampered pump.

Asked if the gas pumps at QMart in Aberdeen were hit with a skimmer, Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation, told The Daily World in an email that they found “no evidence of any tampering or skimming device” when they inspected the QMart gas pumps on Saturday and Sunday.

Employees at QMart declined to discuss the issue on Monday.

Aberdeen Safeway Manager Max Kluh told The Daily World that the store’s gas pumps have had no issues with card skimmers recently, and added they have been “very vigilant” to double-check the pumps the last few days to make sure they weren’t tampered.

Myers wrote that these kinds of fraud cases are difficult to prosecute locally because the card data is often stolen at one location while the funds are taken from another.