Fraud wave appears to be hitting Capitol Hill credit card users

A wave of complaints from Capitol Hill and First Hill area residents of fraudulent credit and bank card charges has a local bank looking for answers and police working their way through a big jump in fraud reports on the Hill. It’s an important time to take a minute to check your accounts and make sure you’re not hit by it, too.

KOMO news is reporting that BECU acknowledged “about 100 cases” of fraud reported by customers “in the Broadway area.

“A limited, small number of members say their cards were compromised in that area,” Pietzsch said. “It’s too premature to make conclusions. We’ll be handing any information over to authorities.”


KOMO adds that customers of Chase, American Express, Charles Schwab and others have been hit in the wave.

According to our look at Seattle Police records, 19 incidents involving financial fraud or identity theft were reported on Capitol Hill in the past two weeks — more than one incident per day. For comparison, only 7 incidents were reported in the first two weeks of the month. Typically, we average abound one incident every two days, according to a CHS analysis of crime records.

The problem does, indeed, appear to be centered on Capitol Hill and the central part of the city but it’s not entirely clear that the uptick in fraudulent activity is limited to the Hill. Here is a look at maps showing the block location of fraud reports over the past four weeks in central Seattle, via SeattleCrime. Each map is linked to a live version of the mapped dataset.

10/15-10/28 Fraud & Identity Theft

10/1-10/14 Fraud & Identity Theft

If you find something fishy in your account, report it to your financial institution immediately and take a minute to report the incident to police.

We’re following up with SPD to learn more about what they’re doing to investigate this situation.

UPDATE 8:35 AM: One confounding element to understanding what is going on here and possibly the rest of the city — or more? — is the steady, day to day hum of fraud identity theft. It happens every day, of course, and with this information out there, police and banks will see an increase in reports. A quick search of Facebook posts and updates from CHS friends in recent weeks turns up a handful of reports.

10/25: Credit card breach. Someone tried to use my card at a gas station in Delaware, and a Sears Roebuck in Baltimore.

10/25: Odd, my AMEX had an attempted $100 use at a Canadian gas station this morning, got a call about it and canceled the account right away. Maybe a breach somewhere indeed.

I’m sure we’ll now see more. Like this one already posted to our profile by Jessica: “My debit card was used for $250 in Russia.” She tells us she is also a BECU member and that her fraudulent Russian charge happened on the 28th.

One more note: Please don’t post the names of individual businesses on the Hill if you want to let us know about fraud that has hit your account. As we’re seeing, this issue is widespread and very likely goes way beyond any one store or restaurant. We’ll remove any comments that include specific businesses unless the suspcicious charges were made there. With the 19 and counting reports filed with SPD, police can put together the information in the unlikely event that this is related to any local entity and if they do, of course we’ll report it. The banks and financial institutions, however, are part of the story and better equipped to deal with this kind of information. Thanks!

UPDATE 9:25 AM: Taking a closer look at recently reported cases of financial fraud on Capitol Hill and First Hill, 14 of the 19 incidents we know of that were reported to SPD came in this week.

UPDATE 9:35 AM: We’re waiting to hear more from SPD detectives on this investigation but department spokesperson Mark Jamieson tells us that SPD is definitely looking at this situation as unusual wave of incidents.

“Yes we have received a number of reports of fraud cases and they seem to be in the East Precinct right around Capitol Hill, Broadway that area,” Jamieson said. “We’re working with the various financial institutions and victims to see where we are.”

Jamieson said it’s not clear yet that this is truly a cluster of identity theft fraud in the area but it does seem unusual to see such an active geographic pocket of fraudulent activity. “This is the first I’ve heard of this in a long time,” he said.

UPDATE 10:10 AM: In case you miss it above, in addition to contacting your financial institution, you can report any fraudulent activity to SPD online here.

As pointed out in comments, fraud reports can’t be submitted online. Here’s SPD’s number for reporting incidents like these:

To report a crime that is not in progress to the non-emergency line, call (206) 625-5011 and select 8 from the menu.

UPDATE 10:18 AM: One name keeps coming up in reports we’re hearing about this: STD Solutions. I’ve found nothing on the Web or on any fraud lists related to that name — but every time I write something like that, one of you finds something I missed. I miss anything?

UPDATE 11:15 AM: Want examples of how this stuff happens?

UPDATE 12:15 PM: No major updates from SPD but we have been told that detectives are not yet ready to say that the crimes are linked or to make a statement on the scope of the fraud in the area. “We’re not ruling out anything,” SPD’s Mark Jamieson said. SPD has been in contact with the financial institutions involved but it is not yet contacting businesses in the area directly about the possibility of skimming technology being used on ATMs or payment consoles.

UPDATE 2:25 PM: We’re seeing a lot of anecdotes now that the story has come to light. Twitter, Facebook and the CHS comments document many incidents. Even the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce says it was hit, via Twitter.

It’s also difficult to offer advice on what to do in the near term. From Vics in the comments below:

It will be really difficult not to spend any money on Broadway/other parts of the hill this weekend so I’m wondering if we should be going into the banks directly to extract cash for now? Does this seem like the safest alternative?

UPDATE 2:59 PM: A few things to emphasize. SPD has not yet said that any of these incidents are skimming. What we know from comments is both bank cards and credit cards from a variety of financial institutions have been involved. Anecdotes include reports of people using their cards at all types of businesses in the area. None of the anecdotes describe a card that was exclusively used for ATM withdrawals — but that’s also not surprising given that many cards are set up these days as combination credit/ATM cards. Still, withdrawing cash from a bank ATM has its own risks — but it does not appear to fit the pattern of what is being reported around Capitol Hill. If you are concerned about using your credit card on the Hill right now, cash from a bank ATM appears to be the safest option. Right after not buying anything at all but what fun is that?

UPDATE 8:03 PM: So, remember those 14 police reports of fraud in the Capitol Hill area we reported above? Add 23 more that came in Friday as word of the story spread.

UPDATE 8:11 PM: This view gives you a better sense of how centered on Capitol Hill this problem appears to be.


Saturday update: read it here; also, reports of fraud now popping up in Central District


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