Second wave of area ATM victims step up
An Aspen woman believes she is the victim of an ATM scam after she discovered $500 was withdrawn from her bank account on Sunday. Police say she is part of a second wave of victims who have reportedly been fleeced by the so-called skimmer scheme.
Bridget Bielinski said that she filed a complaint with the Aspen Police Department on Wednesday, shortly after she noticed that the cash had been taken from her account. She also said that her bank, Wells Fargo, refunded her the money.
Bielinski’s complaint comes after the Aspen Police Department, on Jan. 17, issued a public statement that it was investigating the use of a skimmer device that was placed at the ATM of a local bank.
“In that first wave, we had four or five victims come forward,” said Blair Weyer, spokeswoman for the Aspen Police Department. “Now we’re getting a second wave with about four or five reports.”
The first wave occurred at American National Bank, where police say that a skimmer – a small electronic device that copies data from ATM cards or other automatic pay stations such as gas-station credit-card readers – was in place in the ATM lobby from Dec. 22 to 29.
Weyer said police are suspicious that another ATM machine might have been affected in the second, most recent wave.
Meanwhile, Bielinski said she rarely uses her Wells Fargo debit card. But when she last did, on Jan. 1, she used it to deposit a “large check” because the bank was closed.
“I was on my way to the Wheeler [Opera House] for Filmfest and stopped at the ATM on the way,” she said. “It was 7:25 p.m., and I made the deposit. And that was before any publicity had come out about the skimmers. And today, I went online and noticed that on Sunday there had been a $500 ATM withdrawal from Alpine Bank in Glenwood Springs.”
Wells Fargo officials contacted at both Aspen and the firm’s regional office in Denver said they were unaware of any skimming activities at the Hopkins Avenue branch but said they were looking into it.
American National Bank’s Aspen branch president, John C. Ward, sent a letter to both of Aspen’s newspapers last week, saying that once the bank learned of fraudulent activity, it “immediately took steps rectifying the situation.” Ward said that the bank, in reviewing ATM surveillance video, “confirmed that the skimming device was installed and removed at various times on two separate days during the period of Dec. 22 – Dec. 29, 2012.”
The bank also contacted customers who used the bank cards during those timeframe and reissued their cards.
Police said during the first wave at American National Bank, the skimmer gave the perpetrators access to not only the card numbers but also the PINs, because many of the transactions involved limited amounts of cash.
“Essentially they’re recreating these cards, and in some cases they’re making small purchases and taking large amounts of cash back,” Weyer said. “We’ve also seen some cases where they’re using the card to buy a pre-loaded [credit] card so they’re no longer connected the account. And some of them are making large ATM withdrawals and really hitting people’s bank accounts.”
Weyer said bank customers need to “definitely be diligent and keep an eye on their statements. And always cover the keypad when you’re entering your PIN.”
Bielinski said she was grateful Wells Fargo reimbursed her for the withdrawal she did not make.
“They have been great, and they refunded everything,” she said. That included the fee charged to her account on Saturday, when her account balance was checked from a remote ATM, she said.
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