'Hundreds of victims' affected by theft of numbers


APRIL 25, 2008http://www.watertowndailytimes.com/article/20080425/NEWS05/133127784

CANTON . Police are investigating hundreds of reports of thefts of credit and debit card numbers belonging to customers who shopped at WiseBuys department store in December.

"We have had hundreds of victims and thousands of thefts. We have had amounts as high as $3,000 and as low as $10," said Sgt. Lori A. McDougal of the village police department. "I would say at this point they total upwards of $100,000."

Victims are all believed to have shopped at the Canton WiseBuys store between Dec. 5 and 20, Ms. McDougal said. Since then, stolen credit card numbers have been used to create fake cards in New York City.

"We are working with the New York police department. They have arrested several suspects that created cards with some of the numbers," Ms. McDougal said.

The fraudulent cards were used to pay for taxi rides, to buy food at a Wendy's Restaurant and to make purchases at New York City drug stores and other locations.

"We had the New York City police call us about one of our cards that was picked up in a sting," said Scott A. Wilson, president and chief executive officer of SeaComm Federal Credit Union, which has a branch in Canton.

Complaints about the thefts began to come in early in March as victims received their monthly bank and credit card statements, Ms. McDougal said. She advised anyone who did business with WiseBuys in December to double-check his statement and report any suspicious charges to his bank or credit card company and police.

"At this point we are not sure how the numbers were obtained. It may be an employee or it may be somebody who hacked into their system," Ms. McDougal said.

Hannaford Bros., which operates supermarkets in the Northeast including stores in Watertown and Massena, reported the theft of up to 4.2 million credit and debit card numbers from 300 of its stores in March. The numbers were stolen by hackers who intercepted data transmissions between Dec. 7 and March 10.

It is unknown if there is any similarity between the Hannaford thefts and the WiseBuys thefts.

"We have people working on it," said Norman V. Garrelts, chief executive officer of Hacketts, which took over operation of WiseBuys after a November merger.

The company is cooperating in the investigation.

"We had no inkling it was going on. The police notified us," he said. "How anybody could have hacked into the system, I am not a big enough geek to know. It happened over a day or two."

"We have rechecked all of our safeguards and everything seems to be in order," Mr. Garrelts said. "It should not have been able to happen."

The Canton store was the only one in the WiseBuys and Hacketts chain that was affected by the number thefts. The stores use the credit card processing system used by nearly every True Value hardware store in the nation, Mr. Garrelts said.

WiseBuys changed its computer system in December and investigators are attempting to determine whether that was when the numbers were stolen, Ms. McDougal said. Village police have begun interviewing about 30 WiseBuys employees but so far have not identified any as suspects.

District Attorney Nicole M. Duvé, who learned of the thefts Thursday, said she takes the thefts seriously.

"This is starting to eat up a lot of law enforcement time and a lot of our time. I intend to take a very dim view of anybody caught doing it," she said.

Debit and credit card issuers believed to have been affected by the thefts to date include Community Bank N.A., SeaComm Federal Credit Union, Key Bank, Discover Card, Capital One and NBT Bank, Ms. McDougal said.

"As far as I know, all of the banks have been cooperating with their customers and all have been reimbursed by their banks or credit card companies," she said.

"We have a zero loss policy," said Mr. Wilson, of SeaComm Federal in Massena. Under the policy, the credit union absorbs any losses caused by fraud.

In all, 42 credit union members were among those whose numbers were stolen. All were issued new numbers and cards.

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