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Local police investigate credit fraud

In Costa Mesa and Westminster thieves used stolen credit card information for about $50,000.

November 09, 2006|By Kelly Strodl

Someone made a huge cash-out in Las Vegas over the Halloween weekend using hundreds of stolen bank account numbers taken during credit transactions in Costa Mesa and Westminster, police said Wednesday.

Victims who used their bank debit cards at credit terminals in either city had their bank account information stolen between Oct. 6 and 9.

The credit information reported stolen in the two cities also appeared on phony cards for purchases or bank withdrawals made in Las Vegas between Oct. 26 and 30, police said.

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As of Tuesday night, Costa Mesa police calculated the total reported loss at around $40,000, but that number has gone up "dramatically with the influx of calls" police are continually receiving, Costa Mesa Police Det. Bob Phillips said.

Police declined to identify exact locations for the thefts in Costa Mesa; however, certain businesses within the city have been connected as possibilities, Philips said.

Westminster police were made aware of the thefts in that city from an independent credit research company that discovered nearly 115 cards compromised at the same Arco gas station on Westminster Avenue.

The company, Fair Isaac, analyzes credit transactions, locates suspicious spending and notifies banks and police departments, Westminster Police Det. Glenn Finley said.

The thieves captured information on the bank cards' magnetic strips when customers paid at the pump with their debit cards, Finley said. Cards used to make payments within the station were not compromised, he said.

Eleven victims have reported losses totaling almost $10,000 due to credit fraud that can be traced to the Westminster Arco, Finley said.

Customers of nine banks — including Washington Mutual, Orange County Teachers Federal Credit Union, U.S. Bank, Union Bank, Wells Fargo and Bank of America — were affected by the thefts, Phillips said.

Phillips recommended that anyone using a debit card for payments exercise caution when using personal identification numbers or other personal data like a ZIP Code, he said.

"If they suspect their card has been used, call the banks," Phillips said.

People frequently are unaware they have been a victim of identity theft until they receive their statement in the mail, Phillips said.

Card users can take proactive measure in preventing crimes to their accounts by keeping track of purchases online, Phillips said.

"By watching their funds online, people could detect it before the banks" do, Phillips said.

The crimes occurred relatively close in time to another string of credit thefts at a Ralphs supermarket in Huntington Beach. Aside from the dates of the reports, no other connection has been made to the thefts in Huntington, police said.

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