By CBC News
After months of investigation, Montreal police have arrested two men in connection with an extensive scam to skim debit cards.
Police say the suspects were stealing customers’ PINs and debit cards and swapping them out with near identical cards, before draining their bank accounts.
The suspects generally followed the same pattern, according to police:
- The driver would pick up a passenger from the street.
- At some point, the driver would ask that the passenger pay by debit. When it came time to pay, the driver would insert the card into a special terminal that skims PINs.
- While passengers weren’t looking, he would pocket the real card and hand back a different, nearly identical debit card.
The fraudsters worked quickly, often withdrawing huge sums of money within a few hours of the card theft, before the customer noticed.
Victim Hannah Lazare said it was only the next day, when she went to her TD branch to cash a cheque, that she realized her debit card had been stolen.
“I noticed that there was some scratches on the back of the card. And I realized that the signature on the back was not mine,” she said.
Lazare, a law, ethics and history student at the University of Toronto had just deposited several thousand dollars in scholarship money in her account a few days before. She recoiled when the teller told her there was just $6 left in her account.
From her bank statement, Lazare could see that the fraudsters had withdrawn $1,000 from a bank machine and then spent the rest at a Couche Tard dépanneur.
Police said the fraudsters worked quickly, often withdrawing huge sums of money within a few hours of the card theft. (CBC)
Police say the suspects also tried to press passengers for personal information, to maximize their return.
“What interested them most was their date of birth,” said Montreal Police Sgt. Laurent Gingras.
‘The guy was very good at chatting us up… basically just distracting us and taking our mind off of anything we’d consider to be off about the whole situation.’– Victim Matt MacKinnon
“Because with the date of birth, at certain banks, they can withdraw more money than is usually allowed.”
Matt MacKinnon, a local freelance photographer, lost hundreds of dollars in the same scheme on Saturday.
“The guy was very good at chatting us up, asking where we were from and stuff — basically just distracting us and taking our mind off of anything we’d consider to be off about the whole situation,” said MacKinnon.
Neither MacKinnon nor Lazare say they gave personal information to the driver.
Lazare said she was reimbursed by TD bank once the bank determined she had been the victim of fraud.
MacKinnon, also a TD customer, said the bank is still conducting its investigation.
Renting out taxis
Gingras said the suspects were renting out taxis under the table from different drivers with different companies.
It’s not clear whether the drivers who lent their cars knew anything about the fraud.
“By varying the kind of vehicle that was used, they would not [draw] attention to themselves,” said Gingras. “Different types of vehicles — more difficult for the police to pinpoint.”
One of the suspects appears to have had a taxi licence. The other does not even have a driver’s licence.