Updating a significant fraud scam that hit the local area last weekend, Longview police Wednesday reported that at least 82 people in the county were the victims of fraudulent bank charges.
The number jumped up from the 68 people in Cowlitz County, most from Kelso, who reported fraudulent charges on their bank cards Monday.
“This is definitely a significant event to have this many victims in such a short period of time,” Longview Detective Sgt. Chris Blanchard told The Daily News on Tuesday.
Police say consumers likely were defrauded through use of ATM skimmers or software viruses at local retailers.
One local credit union told one of its members that skimmers were found on an ATM at a Kelso business and one in Longview, according to a press release. These skimmers read the magnetic strips on debit and credit cards to steal the account information.
Installed ATM skimmers are likely responsible for the stolen information, but subjects could also have obtained the card information by hacking a local retailer, Blanchard said. No specific ATM or shop has yet been identified as the root cause.
Most of the fraudulent ATM cash withdrawals and online purchases occurred on Sunday in the Cowlitz County area, according to a press release.
Longview Police Community Service Officer Cindy Lopez Werth said in a press release that most of the 10 people who contacted the agency Monday have accounts with Red Canoe Credit Union. Some victims also had accounts with Fibre Federal Credit Union. Most said they lost $500 from their accounts through ATM withdrawals in Longview, according to a press release.
All the Longview victims told police they had their debit cards with them and none had been lost, stolen or loaned.
One Longview man reported someone had made two $300 withdrawals from a Wells Fargo Bank ATM machine in Chehalis, a town he rarely goes to, according to police.
Kelso police have released photos of three men suspected of using skimmed cards to make fraudulent charges at ATMs throughout Longview and Kelso.
Cowlitz County sheriff’s deputies, Kelso police and Longview police are working together to figure out the “scope” of the incident and collect evidence, Blanchard said.
“We’re going to start at the end of the chain and look at evidence obtained when somebody ... uses a potentially fraudulent card to draw funds,” Blanchard said. “Then we will look for commonalities among victims who may have used their cards at various locations.”
He added that it is a “huge endeavor” to check every ATM for a skimmer because the device is often hidden inside the machine. And the device could have been installed much earlier and may not even be attached to the machine anymore.
It’s possible the suspects are local, but these types of crimes are also commonly committed by people who travel around the country, Blanchard said.
“We encounter skimming devices every year or two. We’ve traced some recent ones to people who came from out of the country and rented a car and traveled around doing this,” he said.
Anyone who has information or is the victim of fraud can contact the Kelso Police Department at 360-423-1270, call the Longview police tip line at 360-442-5929 or file an online report with the Longview Police Department at https://bit.ly/2zGKamy