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Credit card fraud can happen to anybody

Local bank executive among hundreds in area whose accounts were compromised

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

BERRYVILLE -- A widespread theft of credit and debit card data claimed potentially hundreds of people, including an executive with a bank affected by the fraud.

But the Bank of Clarke County moved fast to protect other customers and itself from further incidents. That meant canceling hundreds of other cards not yet affected, according to the bank's vice president of marketing, John Hudson.

Bank of Clarke County started receiving information about the rash of credit card fraud complaints a couple of weeks ago, Hudson said Wednesday. Then the fraud alerts started rolling in, he said.

While law enforcement agencies fielded dozens of calls from people reporting suspicious purchases appearing on their credit and debit card statements, Bank of Clarke County and other financial institutions began their own investigations.

"We also were trying to follow, is this maybe a local concentration or is this something larger," Hudson said. "Because of the size of it, by all indications it seemed to us to be something larger than just something local.

"So we started looking at patterns for the customers' cards that were compromised and, of course, they were credit and debit cards so that indicated they weren't hacking into a credit card company or debit card company -- it had to be coming from some retail source," he added. "So we started looking for a common thread, and we did locate one with a local retailer, which I don't want to say who it is but there is one that is suspected in the area that seems to rise to the top when people are talking about this."

A search of the bank's database showed every compromised debit or credit card had a charge made to the business, he said.

"So the fraud cases really started growing which, again, justified our suspicion that this was a larger ring of some kind that hacked into someone's system and started taking cards," Hudson recalled. "We were getting stories of charges from our customers from all over the country, you know, Florida, Texas, California.

"In fact, my card was compromised late last week," Hudson said. "While I was sitting in Berryville someone was charging at a Target in Florida."

Bank workers continued to examine the database they had created which collected information on the affected customers.

The bank then took another bold step -- closing all cards that had a charge from the retail business but had not been compromised. Bank officials felt fairly confident those cards remained at risk for compromise, Hudson explained. The bank closed about 1,700 cards to protect both the customers and the institution. Then the bank called all customers on the list not already contacted by its fraud division to alert them of the move to close the cards and to expect new ones in the mail.

Customers seemed appreciative of the steps taken, and fraud reports dropped significantly, Hudson said.

"It's imperative that people understand the banks in the area that experienced fraud were not hacked into," Hudson said. "This was not a breach of any of the banks' systems, because I know a lot of the banks in the area were involved in this as well. It was the breaching of some retail establishment's system, evidently."

Customers' checking and other accounts remained safe, Hudson said. The numbers on debit cards do not match the digits for the accounts.

"We are trying to tell customers, you know, be vigilant and watch your statements," Hudson said, adding that typically someone using a card number will make a test charge of less than $10, then move on spending larger amounts.

Authorities have indicated many of the people who reported suspicious charges on their statements had used cards at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in recent months through August. No charges were made by the business itself, authorities have said.

A statement released Tuesday by Alamo representative Lisa Limoges, a partner with N/L Entertainment LLC, indicated the business has "taken the lead in cooperating with the authorities, and an investigation is currently underway to determine the actual source of this issue."

The release notes the investigation involves transactions made as early as June through August. Alamo has heightened security with its card processing services.

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