Grinchy: Skimmers and scammers bilk locals

Jim Duncan was involved in the sale of this house that made it onto the list of fake rentals on Craigslist.
Photo by Jim Duncan Jim Duncan was involved in the sale of this house that made it onto the list of fake rentals on Craigslist. Photo by Jim Duncan

For local writer Coy Barefoot, it was having his debit card refused December 7 and going home to discover his BB&T account balance was zero.

For Amy Paquette, it was a call from BB&T’s fraud department asking about an ATM withdrawal that she didn’t make while she was on a business trip in upstate New York December 8.

That’s how both locals discovered their debit cards had been skimmed and withdrawals made from ATMs in New York City.

Skimmers are electronic devices that can read and store credit or debit card information that thieves then use to make their own unauthorized withdrawals. The devices can be attached to gas pumps or other card readers, although some are so small they can be handheld and your info swiped when you give your card to a cashier or waiter.

“I have confirmed one has been found in the last few days in the Charlottesville area,” says Barefoot. “If there’s one, there’s likely more.” At least a dozen other people have chimed in on Barefoot’s Facebook post to say they’ve recently been skimmed as well.

He declines to say where the skimmer was found, and says Albemarle police told him there’s an ongoing investigation.

Paquette says it’s the second time in the past three months that her debit card info has been stolen. “The first time purchases had been made in Singapore and in the Netherlands,” she says. A phone call from BB&T told her a $1,100 withdrawal had overdrawn her account, and she says the bank was great about taking care of the overdraft.

The debit card is not one she uses frequently, and in the latest breach, six ATM withdrawals from different locations in New York took $1,000 plus ATM fees.

“I used to live in a big city for 15 years and never carried cash because too many friends had been robbed,” she says. “Now I live in a small town and we’ve got these thieves who can rob you without physical contact.”

“It’s horrible,” says Barefoot, who says he has to wait for the fraud withdrawals to post, then make a claim and wait two to five business days to be reimbursed.

Chips in cards are supposed to prevent this type of theft. “My chips always fail after two or three months and I have to order new cards,” he says. And most gas pumps and ATMs don’t use chips, he points out.

BB&T spokesperson David White says in an e-mailed statement that the bank uses “sophisticated layered fraud tools” to monitor accounts and encourages customers to watch their accounts and sign up for text or e-mail alerts.

Barefoot plans a change to prevent future skimming. “One word,” he says. “Cash.”

Skimming isn’t the only way thieves are conning locals out of their money.

The fake rental, a perennial in which a Craigslist ad offers cheap rent on houses taken from the MLS, and the faux landlord needs the rent mailed, is back. “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” says realtor Jim Duncan, who was recently involved in a sale in which the house ended up for rent on Craigslist at a discount rate.

“If someone wants you to mail them the money before sending keys, that’s a big red flag,” he says.

In another recent area scheme, a swindler pretending to be from the Albemarle Sheriff’s Office calls people and tells them they failed to report to jury duty, and must get prepaid credit cards to post a bond and give him the authorization number.

“A lot of people have been contacted,” says Chief Deputy Chan O’Bryant. She estimates the department has gotten four or five calls and two to three e-mails a day. Three local citizens have been bilked of $6,000, $2,500 and $1,000 respectively.

The sheriff’s department would never demand money over the phone, O’Bryant reminds.

Unlike those duped by the fake deputy and fake landlord, Barefoot and Paquette will get their money back.

“It’s a pain in the butt here at the holidays,” says Paquette.

Says Barefoot, “Hopefully Santa will still get here in time.”

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