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Sophisticated credit card fraud scheme hits Houston

Businesses now have to adopt the safeguards to avoid scammers

Two merchants whose businesses are out thousands of dollars hope their experiences will help others from falling victim to the same kind of sophisticated credit card fraud scheme.

For Darrin Super from the Bulkley Valley Home Centre in Houston, it all began last fall when a woman walked into his store and bought just over $5,000 worth of farm supplies, mostly gates and fence posts.

When it came time for the woman to pay by credit card, she spent several minutes fiddling with her cellphone and credit card terminal in a seemingly unsuccessful event to have the transaction go through. She then asked for and was given the terminal.

“Typically when you or I purchase something, your either have the tap or swipe,” said Super. “But in this case, they had to manually enter the card. We didn’t think twice about it.”

And that proved to be the tipping point, Super added.

“Probably a month later I got a notification from Visa that the card was stolen. And there was no reprieve or should I say no assistance for us because technically we were held liable because we allowed a customer to manually enter the card,” he said.

Since then Super has changed the store’s credit card purchase protocol — customers are no longer permitted to manually enter their credit card information.

Super also dug deeper into the situation be checking the yard slip, the document which a customer signs acknowledging that they took delivery of the items they purchased.

The phone number the person wrote down was a dead end but Super traced the name back to a woman on the Lower Mainland who told him her identity had been stolen several years ago and she’s been dealing with the aftermath ever since.

“Somebody just took all of her identity and it’s just been using it however they see fit and what they can get away with,” he said.

The experience is also a lesson that businesses in more rural and remote areas, where things may be more casual, now have to adopt the safeguards of their urban counterparts, he said.

That’s the same response given by Jason Jubinville of P&B Feeds and Needs in Burns Lake.

In the relatively small world of farm supply stores along Hwy. 16, word spread quickly and businesses began exchanging stories once they got the bad news about the credit card fraud scheme.

It turned out that Jubinville was the woman’s next target when she showed up with some red-coloured gates tied to the roof of her SUV.

In connecting the dots afterward, Jubinville discovered that the Bulkley Valley Home Centre in Houston had sold her gates of the exact same colour.

“She had a great presentation, like super-friendly, visiting everybody in the store, really putting everybody at ease,” Jubinville recounts.

And once she had selected her purchases, more gates and feed in the range of $1,100, she fumbled with her cellphone and credit card terminal just as she did in Houston.

“I have video of her doing it all, probably lasts about four or five minutes of her trying to enter her information,” said Jubinville.

“She then does a manual entry onto the machine. And as soon as we allow somebody to do a manual entry like that, as since I’ve learned, we are basically SOL if it gets denied. Which of course it did,” he added when he received his own call telling him the card had been stolen.

The woman’s technique was so polished that when Jubinville’s employees told her it was not safe to add the gates she bought to the ones from Houston already on top of her small SUV, she asked if she could leave them behind while taking the others home and then return.

“She was gone about 55 minutes and then she was back. So wherever she went it was about a 20-minute drive,” Jubinville said.

Whether or not the woman was from the Burns Lake area or just beyond isn’t known but to Jubinville, she knew exactly what she was doing.

“She has her game dialed in,” he said.

A photo taken of her vehicle shows that at least while at P&B Feeds ‘N’ Needs, its licence plates were removed.

Like Super, Jubinville has changed his store’s protocol so that customers can no longer manually enter their information.

And he’s more wary of people he does not know. He was also the victim of a phone scam last year.

“I’ve been here for 13 years and I’ve very rarely lost anything or had any issues at all. I guess maybe I was a little unaware,” Jubinville said.

Super and Jubinville were not the only merchants in the area to be taken in by a woman using a stolen credit card number — the Bulkley Valley Home Centre in Telkwa and Smithers Feed have had similar experiences.

RCMP Corporal Madonna Saunderson confirms that detachments in Smithers and in New Hazelton have ongoing investigations but was unable to comment on the specifics.

And she did provide contact information for the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre for tips and information to prevent becoming a victim of fraud.

About the Author: Rod Link

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