In recent weeks, Fort Mill residents have become victims of financial card theft.
No one stole their debit or credit cards, but someone was able to steal their card numbers at several local businesses, according to the victims and Fort Mill Police Capt. Bryan Zachary.
"Mine happened on November 18 [when her card number was used] in Titusville Fla.," Heather Ilaqua said. "They used it several times before it was caught."
Ilaqua's husband Travis is also a victim. Someone used his debit card account on Dec. 10 in Cape Coral, Fla. Travis Ilaqua never uses his debit account online, but Heather frequently uses hers online. Each has a separate debit card number. Travis said he only uses his card locally. As a stay-at-home dad, he doesn't leave Fort Mill often, and usually spends money near their McKendry home at businesses in and around Fort Mill Square.
"I find it odd," Heather Ilaqua said. "I shot out an e-mail to the neighborhood to be careful where they use their cards and I heard back from a lot of people who said the same thing happened to them. Who knows what the common thread is? Four people in this small neighborhood said it happened to them."
The Ilaquas bank with Bank of America, and said the company's fraud department alerted them to the problem. Someone charged $330 to Heather's account and $200 to Travis'. Bank of America put holds on their accounts and issued them new cards. It also returned the money from the fraudulent charges.
"Bank of America has been great to deal with," Heather said.
Representatives with the bank's fraud department did not immediately return calls from the Fort Mill Times.
"I had the same thing happen to me the Sunday before last," McKendry resident Greg Greemon said last week. "I use BB&T and they called me."
Ironically, Greemon had been at a friend's house the day before talking about the same thing happening to his friend. The next day, BB&T's fraud department informed him someone had used his debit account in Iowa. Two charges, each for $110.44, were made at a Wal-Mart before the fraudulent charges were caught. His bank also closed his account, issued a new card and refunded the money, he said.
All three had recently used their cards at Los Azteca, a Mexican restaurant in Fort Mill Square at the corner of Tom Hall Street and Doby's Bridge Road. The owner of Los Azteca did not immediately return calls from the Fort Mill Times.
Another neighbor of the Ilaquas, who asked that her name not be published, said she and her mother also fell victim. However, neither had used their debit or credit card at Los Azteca. They did use their cards at the Food Lion a few blocks away.
"I went to Food Lion the day it was stolen," she said.
Fort Mill Police have seen an increase in financial card fraud being reported of late, Zachary said. The department has taken six reports on it since Nov. 25.
"Apparently, in all cases, the common denominator is that all the accounts were used here in town, all within proximity of each other in Fort Mill Square," Zachary said.
The intersection of Gold Hill Road and Hwy. 160 West also seems to be a hotspot for card number theft, Zachary said.
The businesses involved have been cooperating in the investigation and Zachary said the department has no reason to believe anyone working at any of the businesses is involved. Investigators are looking into how the thief is stealing the numbers and have a few scenarios they believe might represent his or her modus operandi.
"We're looking at someone with access, via hard line or wireless to intercept the information," Zachary said.
If a business uses wireless technology to transmit credit or debit card sales from the cash register to its credit card processing company, someone with a wireless Internet connection and the technical know-how can intercept that information and steal the numbers. Someone could be sitting in a car near the businesses with a laptop recording the numbers as they are sent to the card processor. Or someone could be hacking into the card processing companies' systems at their end, Zachary said.
"If necessary safeguards are not in place at one point in the system, someone can hack them," Zachary said. "And someone has the means to produce fake cards or they can use it online."
Once the numbers are stolen they are embossed onto blank cards and loaded into the fake cards' magnetic strips. Accounts belonging to Fort Mill residents have been used in Iowa, Florida and Arizona so far. The charges made to the phony cards are usually run as credits, because that doesn't require a PIN number. Most of the fraudulent charges have been made at gas stations or convenience stores, but some are done at retailers such as Wal-Mart and in some cases crooks are using the fake cards to take money out of ATMs.
About a dozen other residents contacted the Times since a story about the thefts was published Dec. 17 to say they, too, were victims.
Since the problem has come to light, local business owners have been making changes, Zachary said. Los Azteca has already switched card processors and it and other businesses are looking into transmitting the card information over land lines as opposed to doing so wirelessly.
"Every time a new safeguard is implemented, these hackers go to work trying to override it," he said. "The businesses here appear to be taking the necessary steps to take precautions on their end to fix it."
Fort Mill Police, like other law enforcement agencies, are seeing more and more computer-related crime, Zachary said.
"Because of the change in society, it's changing the nature of crime," he said.