Business, City of Seward, Police Journal

Secret Service Gets Involved in Credit Fraud

By Heidi Zemach

Two U.S. Secret Service agents were in town last week, bringing themselves up to speed on last summer’s rash of credit and debit card thefts. They met with Mayor Willard Dunham, City Manager Phillip Oates and Police Chief Tom Clemens Wednesday to discuss the ongoing investigation, and to suggest what could be done in the future.

“I was very pleased that they took the time to come down here,” Dunham said. The mayor and his wife have had four cards undermined thus far, which made Dunham extremely unhappy. He has been trying to get to the bottom of this mess since someone apparently started spending one of his cards September 2. He received the first call from his bank’s fraud unit after arriving home from the State Fair in Palmer that someone had been buying things in Georgia using his card number, Dunham said.

Using his position as a mayor, Dunham fought to get cooperation from the credit fraud agencies, and eventually succeeded in having them work with local police. But after discovering that his fourth card was undermined, Dunham kicked up a huge fuss and threatened to contact the Governor and State Attorney General about Seward’s high rate of credit thefts.

The agents, the only two employed to cover all of Alaska and Seattle area, had apparently been too busy handling crimes, and the elections to get involved in little Seward’s troubles. So Seward police did their own investigation, with help from the FBI, and from bank and credit-card fraud units. Local businesses suspected of having the most common points of purchase, also hired private fraud-detection agencies such as TrustWave and Digital Securus to check their systems, and they helped in the police investigation.

Apparently, the card numbers were stolen and transmitted out of the U.S. during the past summer, as most of the fraud cases hail from that time. But people continue to discover that their cards being used in places like Georgia and beyond, Dunham said.—probably as they are sold online or used.

It would be extremely difficult to discover the source of the crimes this far after the fact, the secret service agents told the local officials. And they believe that Seward businesses are now mostly clean, Dunham said. But they advised the city and police department to make a concerted effort to encourage business owners to keep their computers and credit-readers up-to-date with the latest means of fraud protection—especially before the summer tourist season begins. They also offered to give a presentation about fraud prevention at a Seward Chamber of Commerce forum. The secret service also would be willing to fund a local police officer with good computer skills to attend a special training in fraud detection that they recommended. This person would then be able to inform local businesses on how to keep their equipment safe from fraud, and also could help investigate future incidents, Dunham said.

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