Alleged credit card fraud not documented in police reports

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By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM

A number of recent posts in Liberty Hill Facebook groups have created the widespread impression that the town is seeing a local outbreak of credit card skimmers.

Many of the posts allege that the thefts are occurring at particular stores or gas stations in the area, citing that their suspicious charges were found shortly after using a card at the given location.

But local banking institutions, law enforcement, and businesses affected by the rumors, tell a different story.

So far no skimmers — devices that steal banking information by attaching themselves to legitimate swipe machines—have been discovered in any Liberty Hill location.

Liberty Hill Police Chief Maverick Campbell told The Independent by email that the police department has
found no indication of credit card skimming inside the city limits “at this time”.

Only some banks require police involvement to resolve certain credit card fraud, Campbell said, and department handling would depend on the circumstances.

“I encourage at minimum people still mention it to police,” he wrote.

The department’s internal search for reports related to credit card fraud or similar crimes inside the city limits in the past 30 days found no results, he said.

Monday, a representative for the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office said the office had seen no credit card skimming cases in the past month.

That same day, however, an Austin television station — KXAN — reported that a Williamson County woman just outside the Liberty Hill city limits had filed a report with the Sheriff’s Office for fraudulent credit card charges.

The department “told her they hadn’t received any other complaints about this, and they were hoping more people would file reports so they could put together the full picture,” the TV station reported.

The rumors in Liberty Hill come at a time when state news outlets and authorities are detailing an increase in the sophistication of skimmer techniques for card stripe readers.

For a three-month period between August and April, when the Texas Department of Agriculture first began tracking skimming incidents, inspectors found skimmers inside pumps at 17 gas stations. Most were along interstate highways and in Austin. None were in Williamson County.

A number of Liberty Hill locations were identified as skimming hot spots in the social media posts on local pages. Individuals posting suspected the stores, which include Tractor Supply, Boomer’s, and the Shell station on Highway 29, because fraudulent charges were reportedly found shortly after paying with a card at the given location.

Kandle Clark, a manager at Tractor Supply, said their store only reads credit card chips, which are currently impossible to skim information from. Additionally, she said the store has its systems inspected weekly.

“Just because the latest charge was at a store does not mean [a card] was compromised there,” said Clark, who has previous experience as a loss prevention agent for a large department store. She said it typically takes weeks or months to extract usable card information from a scanning.

Clark says she is a “firm believer,” based on her previous familiarity with skimming technology, that any credit card fraud in Liberty Hill would have happened only from handheld pocket scanners.

Resolutions to alleged credit card fraud more broadly is often handled internally by banks.

Information about whether or not there has been an increase in reports associated with Liberty Hill customers could not be gathered from local banks.

Office managers at the local Prosperity Bank said they had not received any calls reporting fraud in recent weeks. Union State Bank branch declined to comment. Classic Bank did not respond to requests for information.

A release by the Liberty Hill Police Department on its Facebook page read that, “officers are checking local establishments for suspicious activity, suspicious devices at fuel pumps and speaking with local business owners frequently during patrols to bring awareness and recommending routine checks of their establishments.”

It added that anyone suspecting a crime should first notify law enforcement, and ask for their permission, before posting about it on social media.

Waylon@LHIndependent.com

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