Kirkland Police, a federal task force and other law enforcement agencies are warning local residents about a sophisticated fraud scheme by a group of thieves authorities are calling the “Parking Lot ATM Bandits.”
At least four people in the ring have targeted shoppers at grocery store checkout lines. The scam involves one bandit looking over shoulders in the line to gain PINs, then others approaching the shoppers as they enter their vehicles and distracting them by asking for directions and pretending not to speak English. At the same time, another member of the band sneaks the card from the victim’s purse, somehow quickly “skims” it and puts it back.
The bandits then clone a card and use it in an automatic teller machines to withdraw money from the victim’s accounts.
Redmond Police spokesman Jim Bove said no such incidents have been reported in Redmond, but at least two such thefts have occurred in nearby Kirkland. One took place at a grocery store on Rose Hill and a second was at a store downtown, said Det. Don Carroll of the Kirkland Police Department, who works with the federal Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Force (ECTF).
“I have two cases and the came in in May and July,” said Carroll. “These guys have been around for awhile all over the Puget Sound area.”
One of the problems in solving the case is that victims often do not know they have been targets of the bandits. “One of the Kirkland victims, I had to call back and ask if she’d been approached by people asking directions,” said Carroll. “She said, ‘How did you know?’”
The bandits have struck in Bellevue, Issaquah, Everett, Seattle, Tacoma and unincorporated King County.
The Kirkland Police Department provided ATM photographic images of the suspected “bandit” members making cash withdrawals using the victim’s skimmed debit card numbers and PINs.
Suspect 1: Appears to be Hispanic/Eastern European, early 30’s, believed to be inside the grocery store as well as the individual who approaches vehicle.
Suspect 2: Older white male, may wear prescription eyewear, thick Russian accent.
Suspect 3: (No photo) A petite, apparently Hispanic female who speaks fluent English and Spanish
Suspect 4: Latino/Eastern European male. In one case the suspect stood behind a customer while she was at an ATM and then followed her around the store before she was approached in the parking lot.
Anyone with potential information about the scams is asked to contact Carroll at 206-654-5722 or the U.S. Secret Service Seattle Field Office at 206-553-1922. ATM card users are reminded to keep their PIN private and to shield the keypad when entering it.