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FEATURE NEWS

Everett Based Bank Not Sure How Customer Debit Cards Were Compromised
November 11, 2017




Photo: Credit cards & keyboard. Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Brandon R. Holgersen taken at Marine Corps Base Campe LeJeune, S.C. (Public domain)
By B. Tanner
Chronicle Exclusive
Updated 11/16/17 with new information


(EVERETT, WA.) -- An official with Everett based Coastal Community Bank, which has 14 branches throughout the Puget Sound area, has confirmed that an undetermined number of debit cards belonging to the bank's customers were "compromised" over the past several days.

"Oh yes," said Laura Byers , Executive Vice President in charge of Marketing & Branding for the bank. "Unfortunately it happens more and more often," added Byers during a conversation Friday afternoon with a reporter.

On Friday morning the Chronicle, in an exclusive report noted it had heard from some of the bank's customers who live in the east Snohomish County area that they'd been informed by the bank their debit cards had been compromised - meaning some bad actors had gotten a hold of their card numbers and were attempting to use the cards for their own gain - and that the bank had frozen those cards from further use.

Bank officials told them that replacement cards would be sent out in the mail.

One area resident, who requested his name not be used because the story involves personal financial information, said two Coastal Bank debit cards in his family -- one used by him, the other used by his wife and both belonging to separate accounts -- were "hijacked" by thieves even though they never touched the physical cards.

He said, "We noticed something was weird over last weekend when both my wife and myself had our cards declined at the check out counters of several area stores, including Fred Meyer in Monroe. We knew there was plenty of cash in each account so we just assumed it was a glitch in the banking system software."

He added that just as he was about to call the bank on Monday morning Nov. 6, he received a call from a representative at the bank saying both cards had been locked by the bank so no further purchases could be made on them because the cards had been "compromised" by credit card thieves.

He asked how their card numbers had been stolen. He said the bank rep who called from his local branch office said they were not sure but that they suspect it was a "credit card skimmer" used somewhere in the Monroe, Sultan, Gold Bar area.

Update 11/16/17: The man in the paragraph above contacted the Chronicle this week with an update on his family's situation with their compromised Coastal Community Bank debit cards. Here's what he told us:

"After those two debit cards got frozen by the bank, I still had one debit card to one of those accounts that had not been compromised, probably because I hardly ever use it. It's attached to the account my wife mainly uses.

So as soon I learned this third card was not compromised and was okay to use for that account, I began using it at a few places in Monroe. Within just a day or two that card also got compromised and was frozen by the bank. Man was I ticked off.

So I went and looked at the most likely transactions where that card's numbers could have been grabbed by a skimmer. And the only places that make sense were gas station pumps....I did use the card for that...and small outfits where my card was taken out of sight to be charged and those places were fast food joints, one small sit down restaurant in Monroe and small stand-alone, non chain espresso coffee hut like you find on the side of the road. Oh, and I did not use the card at any ATM machines.

All the other places were big outfits like Fred Meyer in Monroe where I myself actually swipe the card and can see the entire transaction.

I don't care what the bank says, after this third card got hit so fast after I started using it in Monroe, I'm convinced there is or was until recently a credit card skimmer or skimmers in Monroe at either a gas station, a fast food joint, sit down restaurant or espresso hut. Maybe even more than one for all I know.

What I've learned from this experience is from now on I'll only use cash when I buy gas, a hamburger at a fast food place, coffee at an espresso hut or restaurants where I cannot physically watch my card being processed in a machine.

It's going to be a pain having to carry cash again but it's better than loosing the use of your debit cards and going thorough the hassle. Now I have to fill out forms to get the money back into my accounts that the scammers took out. What a pain in the rear this has been." End update

But Friday afternoon Byers said the bank did not know if the cards were compromised by a skimmer - a device that reads and steals card data that is often placed inside a gas pump at a station to steal debit and credit card numbers - or in some other fashion.

The man we talked (above) with said both he and his wife had purchased gas on those cards at a station in Monroe a few days before they got the call from the bank.

Byers added that she also did not have the exact number of customers who were affected and had their cards deactivated to prevent further abuse.

Byers was asked when bank cards are compromised by skimmers how long it takes the bad guys to start getting money out of those accounts. "We don't always know how long it takes," said Byers. "It depends on what they do with that information...when they use a skimmer sometimes they sell that card information and it takes some time to sell those so it could be as quick as a week or two or it could be over many months."

She also said they often cannot trace back a compromised card to one common cause and that the bank had not heard from law enforcement recently about any local areas of card skimming activity.

On catching bad guys who steal credit and debit card info: "Yes, we have a number of systems and data analysis in place, along with MasterCard who provides our debit card, to look for transactions that are out of place and behaviors that aren't normal, so we are always looking and trying to be ahead of things for our customers," added Byers.

She said she not heard anything recently from law enforcement about local areas of card skimming that are active at present: "No, no more than happens on a regular basis. We're not aware of any particular skimmers placed in any of our markets right now."

If the bank had 40 or 50 cards compromised over a three-day period, as one bank customer told us he'd been informed: "I wouldn't call that number usual but I also wouldn't call it uncommon to happen," said Byers who added that there are a "number of protections in place where a customer does not take a loss on that if there is a transaction on their bank card they did not authorize and they let us know that."

In that instance, she added "the customer is not responsible" for the loss.

Read the Chronicle's Friday morning story here .





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