Chris Johnston says she might go back to using cash.
The Thunder Bay woman was one of dozens of city residents who woke up Monday morning to learn their bank accounts had been raided, the money illegally withdrawn at automated teller machines in the United States.
Johnston said she lost more than $800 in four separate transactions, ranging from $95 to more than $300.
It was a shocking discovery, she said, moments after filing a theft report at Thunder Bay police headquarters.
“I noticed there were four foreign-exchange transactions on my account that shouldn’t have been there because we weren’t in the States.
So I went straight to the bank and reported it. They did an investigation on their end and told us it had been done on Saturday in New York,” Johnston said.
It was a first for the couple, who believe their information may have been compromised on the north side of the city, owing to the face they rarely, if ever, use their debit card on the south side of town.
“I’ve never been a victim of identity theft and ...I guess I realized it was taking place. I just never thought it would hit us. We’ve always been very careful with our cards and PIN numbers,” Johnston said.
Her husband Bill said even though their bank has promised to reimburse them, losing that much money could have dramatic effects on a lot of people.
“You have a fixed income and then they take money out,” he said. “If it had been a mortgage payment needed, it would have been gone.
“All they told us was there was 14 so far that had been reported to them and they didn’t really need any information about where I used the card because it seemed to be kind of a random thing.”
Police say they’re not sure how widespread the fraud was, only that they’d received several calls and that banks were starting to take preventative measures, freezing cards they’d suspected had been compromised.
Spokeswoman Julie Tilbury said the investigation is still in its preliminary stages, though it does appear credit union customers were hit hardest.
“We do not have the full story, but we are encouraging anyone who does notice any fraudulent activities to contact first their financial institution. Secondly they can contact police and make a report.”
Tilbury said the thieves might have had stored the information for months and decided to release it to their operatives all at once on a weekend, when bank and credit union staff would be minimized.
Electronic fraud is on the increase, and not just in Thunder Bay.
“Everyone’s using electronic devices, debit cards, credit cards. It just makes it easier for them to be able to do these types of crimes,” Tilbury said.
She added the banks are the real victims in cases like this, as customers who report money stolen will be reimbursed. It will be the banks who use their own internal software to attempt to narrow down where the card data was stolen locally.
Tilbury said the best way to avoid becoming a victim is not to use debit cards in stores that don’t use chip readers. She recommended keeping regular checks on bank and credit card accounts, and reporting any suspicious activity immediately.