Updated 12:40 pm, Thursday, Sept. 12
The FBI has joined an investigation by the Oak Bluffs police into the theft of more than $160,000 from approximately 167 bank debit card customer accounts over the Labor Day weekend, in a skimming scam that originated on Martha’s Vineyard.
Thieves targeted a Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank (MVSB) ATM machine at a bank branch office at the foot of Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs to gain account information from people who used that ATM, bank officials told The Times.
Oak Bluffs Police Lieutenant Tim Williamson confirmed that he met with FBI investigators and MVSB officials Wednesday to review the case. The Secret Service will be involved in the investigation, he said.
Lieutenant Williamson said federal investigators can cast a wide net and bring resources to bear in various cities, including New York, Indianapolis, and Chicago, where the cards were used to withdraw cash.
MVSB reported that 130 customers were affected, with a total loss of about $140,000. Edgartown National Bank told The Times that one customer account was compromised.
Lieutenant Williamson said he also received an email from Bank of America listing 37 customers affected, for a fraud loss totalling $21,647. All of the cash was removed from Bank of America ATMs in New York City.
Tip of the scam
Mr. Williamson expects the fraud cases to multiply. He said any bank’s debit card holders could have used the ATM over the July/August period when the skimmers were in use. Customers may not have discovered the fraud yet, or their bank may be trying to find the common characteristics of card use from victimized accounts.
“I think this is the beginning of this case,” Lieutenant Williamson said. “I think we’re going to find it is more widespread.”
Mr. Williamson said Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank reacted quickly and has been cooperating fully with police. “This is nothing that the bank did wrong,” he said. “This is something that could have happened to any bank.”
Mr. Williamson said the scam may have also affected credit card holders. He said it is important for bank customers to scrutinize their debit card and credit card statements for evidence of fraud.
Mr. Williamson said he will work with Bank of America’s security fraud investigation unit to examine video from New York ATMs.
Lieutenant Williamson said bank camera photos show two suspects, both apparently in their early 20s with dark hair, of average height, and slim, athletic builds, “always dressed casually.”
He said that although the bank photos are of poor quality, one of the suspects had a unique tee-shirt that he was able to distinguish. It has blocks that spell out A/X MILAN NYC. A/X stands for Armani Exchange.
The suspects followed a familiar pattern. “Suspect 1 always places the skimmer device around 17:00-18:00 (5 pm to 6 pm) immediately followed by Suspect 2 who places the device that captures the keystrokes for the PIN,” Mr. Williamson said. “They always remove the devices in the same order around 22:00-23:00 (10 pm to 11 pm) the same evening.”
Data from the victimized accounts was gathered during the evening hours, and the skimmer had been removed when bank employees came to work the next morning.
Mr. Willamson said it is possible someone will recall the unique tee-shirt, or met the men while they waited to recover the skimming device. “I’m guessing that while they were waiting to remove the devices they spent four hours in the Circuit Avenue area, either eating or drinking somewhere. We’re looking for any tips from the public,” Mr. Williamson said.
He appealed for the public’s help and asked that anyone with information contact Oak Bluffs police at 508-693-0750.
Lay in wait
Paul Falvey, MVSB president and chief executive officer, told The Times Tuesday that an analysis of the compromised accounts led to the ATM machine adjacent to the Flying Horses.
The thieves used a skimming device, an electronic card reader disguised to look like an integral part of the ATM card reader, to gain customer account and PIN numbers over the summer months. They used that information to create fraudulent debit cards, and they waited for the long Labor Day holiday weekend to reap the rewards of roughly two busy months of Island ATM activity, police and bank officials said.
By all reports, the thieves used the cards to make ATM withdrawals on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday in areas that included New York City, Indianapolis, and Chicago.
“It was confined to the [holiday]weekend only,” Mr. Falvey said of the thefts.
Mr. Falvey stressed that all customers were speedily reimbursed, and the bank is following the recommendations of a security vendor to further strengthen its safeguards.
Edgartown National Bank reported thieves withdrew $600 from one customer account. Gregory Berks, Edgartown National’s chief operating officer, said the loss was traced to the use of a card at the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank ATM in Oak Bluffs over the July Fourth weekend. The bank received a fraud alert after the holiday weekend.
“We made the decision that if any of our customers used that ATM, we cancelled their debit card and reissued it for their protection,” he said. “We only had that one incident, which resulted in a minimal loss, but we wanted to be proactive and make sure that our customers’ accounts were protected.”
Edgartown Detective Sergeant Chris Dolby told The Times last week that he had heard of one Sovereign Bank customer who also had an account compromised. Sovereign Bank, a subsidiary of Santander, a Spanish bank holding company, operates as Bank of Martha’s Vineyard on the Island.
In an email received Thursday, Mary Ellen Higgins, Director of Public Relations for Sovereign Bank, a division of Santander US answered several questions posed by The Times in a telephone call Tuesday.
Ms. Higgins confirmed that the account of at least one Sovereign customer on Martha’s Vineyard was compromised recently.
“The customer used another local ATM which apparently had a skimming device attached to it,” Ms. Higgins said.
Asked what her bank was doing to protect customers from this type of fraud, Ms. Higgins said, “Although we can’t disclose details, there are many steps we take to protect the security of client accounts including watching for patterns that indicate potentially fraudulent activity and by proactively reaching out to customers to alert them.”
She added, “The security of our customers’ accounts is a top priority that we take very seriously. We do all that we can to protect customers from fraud in the first place, but when fraud is detected, we work very closely with our customers to quickly minimize risk and any service disruption. We advise anyone who suspects they may have used an ATM that has compromised their card or account to contact their bank immediately and to report any fraudulent local ATM activity to their local law enforcement authorities.”
This story was modified from the print edition to include the comments of Mary Ellen Higgins, Director of Public Relations for Sovereign Bank.