Dear PoPville – Is Columbia Heights a Credit Card Fraud Hotspot?

Photo by PoPville flickr user elliotmitchell

Dear PoPville,

On two separate occasions recently, I’ve been the victim of credit card fraud. My bank informed me that both incidents were the result of someone copying the magnetic strip on my credit card to manufacture a fake card. Both instances were caught when the thief charged a couple hundred dollars worth of electronics in another state. I am not sure of the culprit in this situation, but have narrowed my focus to businesses in Columbia Heights because I live in the area and my neighbors have experienced similar difficulties. So, I thought I’d turn to PoPville to see if anyone has experienced such issues.

CH gal seeking the peace of mind to charge a beer

46 Comment

  • this has happened to me twice in the past. Both times when i lived in Atlanta. There are any number of ways that scammers get information. I used to live in Bangkok which is notorious for this sort of thing but never had a problem there. I suspect that geography plays less of a role than luck.

  • What’s the connection between the “fresh glue” referred to in the sign on the ATM in the photo and card scammers? Also, I hope the person who put up this sign also called the bank to let them know their suspicion.

    I don’t think CH is any more of a hot spot for credit card fraud than any other commercial area. A friend of mine and her companion both had huge purchases charged to their credit cards after they used credit cards to pay for drinks at the Mandarin Oriental. They reported it to hotel management. If someone is copying the magnetic strip on your card when you use it, that’s an inside job. You need to contact the places you are using your card at and tell them they have a credit card thief either working for them or otherwise gaining access to the credit cards data of customers.

    • I think that Picture is referencing card skimmers. They are becoming increasingly sophisticated and popular. It’s harder and harder to spot them, and they show up on more than just those corner store ATMs now and instead major banks. Just make sure to cover your hand when you enter in your pin. There’s usually a tiny camera that sinks to the card scanners so not only do they get your CC number but they get your PIN number too.

      • A camera watching the pin pad? Dang!
        If only these criminals put their evil genius to productive uses 🙂

        • I thought the same thing when I got defrauded by an ATM skimmer, most likely in Columbia Heights or Adams Morgan. The people that did it were clever, fast, and highly effective at stealing my money. If put that effort towards a real business I bet they would be super successful.

      • figby

        I have been skimmed *multiple* times, all over DC. Downtown ATMs, gas pumps, etc. Hideous watching your checking account suddenly drain — but my bank has restored all the pilfered money, every time.

  • I have used my credit card everywhere in CH for years (though I do encourage cash for small businesses) with no problem. But a few weeks ago my card was copied – the same day I used it in a DC parking meter for the first time. Don’t know if there is any relationship there.

    Fortunately Capitol One caught it right away and called me. There were two charges of around $15.00 at a MacDonalds in Indiana, followed by a charge of $900.00 at a Subway also in Indiana. Why in the world would any Subway store be allowing a $900.00 charge?

    • “Why in the world would any Subway store be allowing a $900.00 charge?”

      More than likely the thief works there or knows somebody who works there.

      • ah

        +1. Check to see if the card works at the McDonalds next door, and then run it for a bunch of gift cards at Subway.

        • Yeah, I know how that works – my point was why would any Subway store itself – the owners/managers, knowing the possibility of employee fraud, not simply put a cap on charges, requiring authorization over $100.00 or so?

    • This type of fraud isn’t always a case of someone “skimming” your number. It’s also possible for criminals to clone numbers without ever coming into contact with your card.

    • only time I had an issue was with my bank card and a thousand dollar plus fraudulent charge being made in France somewhere. I suspect the number was stolen online through a virus or trojan or something. My bank refunded it right away. I use plastic almost exclusively and have lived in DC for about 4 or 5 years and haven’t had an issue. I don’t think I’ve ever used an ATM in CoHi before though, just go to Target one in a long, Potbelly’s, and 5 Guys.

    • Emmaleigh504

      What is it with Subway? In college I had some checks stolen (way back in the olden days) and they went to Subway and bought a shit-ton of stuff. And my evil bank wouldn’t refund the money even though the thieves misspelled my last name. I closed that account.

  • A roommate thinks he was skimmed at the Bank of America ATM in Columbia Heights. I’m not sure if thats reasonable, but it was almost certainly in the CoHei/Mt. Pleasant area

  • This commonly happens at the Suntrust ATM in Cleveland Park. Has been a problem there for years apparently…be careful out there!

  • I don’t know. All I know is I am 38 years old and just moved to Columbia Heights 7 months ago from MD.

    I have never been the victim of credit card or ATM theft or fraud in my entire life, not once but I have been scammed twice in the 7 months I’ve lived in CH, on different credit cards no less, and the consequent fraudulent charges on said cards took place within the beltway.

    I don’t know if geography plays a role but it is hard to ignore the coincidence

  • This happened to me recently and my bank said that often when you use your card at a restaurant the server will charge you for the bill and also copy the information by hand for use later. I still had my card and the thief had the security code on the back of the card — I believe that is how they deduced that it had been copied by someone I had given it to (I do not live in Columbia Heights and doubt that the local really has anything to do with it. This happens everywhere.).

  • I’ve had my debit/credit card numbers jacked at least 5 times in my banking history: the majority were from online purchases, where someone was able to grab my digits on legit sites (buying Mother’s Day flowers turned into a nice computer from Office Max from some lucky punk).

    The worst was when my Visa number were stolen–I had to file a DC police report, get a bunch of stuff notarized, and write letters refuting the charge. The guy at Visa eventually told me that the Southern U.S. is a hotbed for sharing and using stolen credit card info, mainly from online transactions. Such a pain in the ass. Stealing bank info isn’t a way to make money.. get a real job!!! GAH.

    • I just moved from DC to SC. Never had a problem in DC but within a month of opening a new bank account and getting a new card I had 8 fraudulent charges that went through India somehow. I suspect (and it’s totally my fault for being a dumbass) that happened because I was updating some account information over an unsecured wireless connection.

    • Sounds like a real headache, sorry. What bank was your Visa issued by? I’ve had my card compromised two or three times in the past, but in all instances it was caught by my bank’s (BoA) fraud detection, and the only real annoyance for me was that I couldn’t use the card for a couple of days while they sent me a new one. I’ve never been asked to prove that the charge was fraudulent, but maybe I’m just lucky.

  • Anywhere where your credit card leaves your sight when you’re making a purchase is a credit card hotspot.

    • agree – restaurants around here need to get with the times and run your cards in front of you, like they do in europe.

      • Bistrot du Coin in Dupont had the tableside machines, but the last time I went I feel like it was not the case. Does BdC still have them?

  • I live in Columbia Heights too, and had to get m AmEX replaced a month ago when a number of unauthorized purchases, including a new computer, showed up on my bill. Not sure if geography had anything to do with it, but I guess worth considering.

  • My debit card has been replaced twice in the last year for fraudulent charges being made. The card is only out of my site when dining out, usually in the 14th & U area. Never use it at ATMs either.

  • I have had it happen with my credit cards twice. In both instances I was alerted by Citibank almost immediately after the fraudulent charges were made. The first time someone tried to charge over $2000 on a website that sells purses, and the second time someone tried to charge $800 at Walmart’s website.

    These were not instances of “card skimming” because it was a credit card (which I don’t put into an ATM machine). My best guess was that one of the restaurants which I frequent has an unscrupulous employee who copied down my card number and tried to make the charges online (thus not requiring the physical card).

    The fraud department at Citibank said that they don’t really try to figure out who fraudulently attempted to use my credit card, which I found odd. It seems to me that if someone tried to order something online, they would have to enter an address for shipping purposes. Why not just turn that address over to the police and see what they find?

  • If the U.S. just adopted the European Chip&PIN system we’d see a huge reduction in skimming/cloning.

  • I have a terrible question about credit card fraud. What prevents me from making a ton of huge purchases with my card and then calling the credit card company to report it lost and claim those charges weren’t made by me? Wouldn’t that be an easy way to get free stuff?

    Clearly I’m not attempting to do this, I’m just curious why it doesn’t happen all the time.

    • It does happen all the time.

      That’s why some bars take your ID with your card.

    • You might be able to get away with that. But stores often have surveillance cameras, and if you order online you have to put in a shipping address. Also, if the police got a search warrant, they could find the stuff in your house. So there’s definitely a chance of getting caught.

  • I hadn’t heard CH was a hotspot for that. But another reason for me to keep using cash exclusively when dining out 🙂

    • Cash which you get from an ATM machine, perhaps one with a skimmer.

      It is much easier to dispute charges on a credit card than a debit/ATM card. Once you swipe a debit card that money is gone from your checking account, and in my experience, banks aren’t as friendly about refunding those.

      • Actually I just make weekly withdrawals from a teller at my bank as needed, but I’m definitely lucky to have the time to do that.

        But I can see how getting $$ back from an ATM would be much harder; sorry you had to go through that!

  • my friend visited last weekend while on a cross-country road trip, and right after she left DC, she called me to let me know her Bank of America had called to tell her that her card number had been stolen and someone had tried making purchases in CA with it. the only places she went in DC were with me, and i’ve lived here 2 years with no problems. we ate at one place in CoHi which I don’t want to name because i like it so much, and i’ve been there 3 times with no problems, but it’s also the most likely of the places. it’s also not one of the places that have already been mentioned above.

    of course, she’s also living in Philly, and we all know how much Philly sucks, so it could’ve totally happened there before she got here. just wanted to let people know that we MIGHT have had it happen too.

    • Does it start with a “T” and end with a “c”? Due to one of my recent scamming events (I seem to have this happen once every two years or so), I am suspicious of one of my favorite restaurants in CH too. Thank goodness my bank caught the fraud immediately and declined the charges.

  • It’s important to remember that you can almost never trace credit/debit card fraud to its source. My parents’ credit card info was stolen by someone in a small town in FL several months after they visited that small town. Thieves can wait as long as they want before using your data, so let’s not demonize Columbia Heights because of a correlation.

  • Unfortunately ATM card skimming happens all over the city. It happened to my Bank of America ATM card in Tenleytown about 2 years ago. My card got skimmed from the ATM outside of the Whole Foods (Bank of Washington I think its called?) The culprit then went around to various ATMs in the city and withdrew $500 per day (max amount) until my account was dry – about $4,000 bucks. Then Bank of America called me to let me know something was up, as I hand’t looked at my account in a few days. B of A refunded the money, and after I did some investigating on my own, I found out that the other banks had video and photos of this clown. B of A said that since they didn’t suspect fraud on my part, and b/c the amount was under $25k, they would not launch an investigation. Damn shame. Since then I make most cash withdrawls from bank tellers, and try to always pay with cash rather than swipe my card.

  • I never had a problem, but a few times, I placed an order for food online from Mr Chens. I got notified with a fraud alert shortly after, and didn’t make the connection because I do a bit of online shopping. Same thing happened again. Third time, I used a different card in our order and another fraud alert. I replaced all my cards and stopped ordering from them….fraud stopped.

    Which I thought was interesting.

  • I assume that the same thing happened to me but they were super slick in their attention to detail. I assume that online purchases were made but they took extra care as to what might show up on my balance statement in terms of regional locations as the only purchases made were in:

    Mount Pleasant and/or Arlington

    However, upon close inspection, it was Mount Pleasant, South Carolina and Arlington, Texas. I didn’t even know there was a Mount Pleasant, SC until this happened to me. I wondered if they were trying to use regional locations I would be likely to frequent to prevent my suspicion and therefore card suspension. Luckily, I caught it the same day the charges were made but they wiped me out of $1600 in a matter of hours.

  • Not in this way, but I had my wallet stolen last year in Dupont and three of my credit cards were used fraudulently in the Columbia Heights Target, Giant, CVS, and Best Buy within 30 minutes of it being stolen, totaling over $3,000.

  • I just had credit card fraud last week, someone charged $200 worth of ‘alien skin software’ (which is actually a real thing?) I live in Mt Pleasant and use the card all over the neighborhood and Columbia Heights, though not at ATM’s, but I have no idea about where the card might have been skimmed.

  • Don’t know if we are allowed to call you the idiot that you are under the civility rules of PoP – but stop for a minute and read all the other posts about scams all over the city – and the world. Plus you get douchebag demerits for “ColHii” anyway.

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