Wave of credit card fraud hits St. Thomas

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ST. THOMAS - In the last month, dozens of St. Thomians have become victims of credit card and debit card fraud.

The fraudulent charges are being made on the victims' credit cards from locations around the world, and the majority of the victims recall charging their cards in the Red Hook area just before they learned that their cards were hacked.

The charges range from less than $5 to several hundred dollars, according to the victims.

"All of my accounts, both stateside and here were hacked, and then my husband was next," said Lori Root, who had four cards compromised in July. "I can't name 10 people that I know that haven't gotten hit. It's sick."

While most of the victims have remedied the unexpected charges through their banks, many of them do not know which authorities to report to so that the string of crime can be stopped.

Root said she turned to the V.I. Police Department after she received an alert from her bank of a $2 charge at a parking lot in Toronto, Canada, but the police did not ask Root to make an official report and they did not seek any additional information from her.

V.I. Police Department spokeswoman Melody Rames said that victims should be making reports to the department.

The V.I. Attorney General's Office also referred the public to the police.

The V.I. Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs and the FBI both did not return calls to The Daily News.

"Through these reports we can see if these incidents are on the rise," Rames said.

Thus far, the department has only received one report in the last three months of debit or credit card fraud, Rames said.

However, posts on social media, word-of-mouth discussions around the St. Thomas community and at least a half-dozen phone calls victims have made to The Daily News indicate a recent rash of credit card fraud.

As the list of victims gets longer, more and more people say they are resorting to using only cash to make transactions.

Other people, such as Root, are wrapping their cards in aluminum or tin foil, and others are ordering special protective wallets that are supposed to prevent handheld readers from tapping into microchip technology that is being installed in newer debit and credit cards.

"It's frightening. It's frustrating because it doesn't seem like anyone is doing anything," said Cheryl Marson, who learned this week that someone in Florida used a duplicate of her card at Home Depot, spending about $1,000.

Marson, who had heard in early July of the rash of fraud, stopped using her cards two weeks ago and also started putting her cards in one of the special wallets.

Prior to having to deal with her own case of fraud this week, Marson said she heard of numerous other cases of locals and tourists being victimized in the Red Hook area by credit card fraud.

"It's even made it over to St. John," Marson said.

However, local authorities have given no indication that they are alarmed, and no one seems to know how the operation is being run or how to put a stop to it - though the victims do have their own theories.

"Either someone is keeping the numbers, or someone is using a scanner," said Paul Trujillo, whose card was charged three times in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

His bank contacted him within an hour of the charges, which ranged from $100 to $150.

"The banks have been reacting really fast," Trujillo said.

Scotiabank Vice President Lawrence Aqui said he recommends that all consumers ensure that their cards are always within their sight.

"Always be able to see where your card is being swiped," Aqui said, noting that he has heard of the series of fraud incidents on-island though he knew of no one affected personally.

"Talk to your bank immediately. The banks of course are doing their best to protect you, but the criminals continue to discover more ways," Aqui said.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a government agency created to educate and protect consumers against abusive financial practices, suggests these steps to keep credit cards safe.

- Monitor accounts for unauthorized charges or debits: Consumers should regularly review their accounts online if possible, and at a minimum examine their monthly statements closely. Consumers should report even small problems immediately as some thieves may process a small charge or debit just to see if the account is live, or whether the consumer notices. Fraudulent charges may occur many months after information is stolen.

- Alert bank or card provider immediately if fraud is suspected: If fraudulent charges appear, the consumer should ask the card provider to close access to the account and issue a new card before more transactions come through. Under federal law and other applicable rules, consumers are generally not responsible for unauthorized debits or charges to credit or debit card accounts, as long as they report them quickly to their bank or card providers.

- Follow up with the bank or card provider and maintain records: If consumers find a fraudulent transaction, they should call the bank or card provider's toll-free customer service number immediately, and also ask how they can follow up with a written communication.

- Avoid scams that ask for personal information over email or by phone: Banks and credit unions never ask for account information through email. If consumers receive this type of email or phone call, they should immediately contact their card provider and report it.

If consumers are unsatisfied with how their bank or card provider responds to a report of fraudulent charges, they can submit a complaint to the CFPB at http://www.consumerfinance.gov.

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