A rash of debit and credit-card fraud is giving many Middle Keys residents a headache as they try to ensure their accounts aren't further compromised.
And the problem appears larger than merely 15 compromised card numbers and victims using the same bank, as several victims say they deal with various banks.
Several people, such as Marathon Boat Yard co-owner Sherry Popham, say they've been victimized several times. Popham has gone through four debit cards in about two months, while her husband Bruce has been hit three times and her 84-year-old mother twice.
"It's just pervasive," she said. "The last time we got hit, Bruce's card was hit seven minutes after mine."
The majority of Popham's fraudulent charges, which amounted to roughly $2,000, were made in the Naples and Fort Myers area. They included $240 worth of gasoline, a small amount at Kmart and "a bunch of little convenience stores."
"I've never carried cash. Now I'm using cash and I actually got a brand new credit card to use for my day-to-day charges. That's the only card I use," Popham said.
Real estate agent Josh Mothner said he had fraudulent chargers on a debit card six weeks ago, while his wife's card was compromised in May and his daughter's twice, in May and again this week.
"The amount of fraud I've heard about in this town is a joke. You can talk to almost anybody in this town and it happened to them," he said.
Mothner said he tried to pin down the charges and compare them with other victims, but it's difficult.
"I'm a lot more careful about the account I use. I have to buy a car, so I'm figuring out how to move money around and I'm probably just going to start writing checks again," he said.
Monroe County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Gene Thompson said his agency is attempting to pinpoint the origin of the fraudulent charges. Some surmise gas stations and restaurants are involved but nothing has been substantiated.
"That hasn't been shown as of yet, so we can't say it's all happening at one location," he said.
Key Colony Beach resident John DeNeale has had three credit cards compromised in April and May. With the first, on April 14, charges were made at a Walgreens in Illinois for $92 and $94. He was hit harder in May, with several large charges from Mexico.
Four of them, according to DeNeale, were for a guard-dog service totaling $4,700, while another appears to be for a hotel in Guadalajara for $740.
Aimee Fletcher said she winters each year in Marathon and typically leaves in April. She said she got a call from her credit card company, Discover, once she returned home to New York.
"There were three charges in three consecutive days in early April. All three were $199 and they were all done at a gas station in Homestead. And we never stopped in Homestead," she said.
Another victim, Habitat for Humanity of the Middle Keys Executive Director Christine Todd Young, said she had a credit card and debit card compromised in April. Her husband also had fraudulent charges on his debit card.
"My specific ones were all out of Sherman Oaks, Calif. It was $250 to Gymboree and another one was at a [steakhouse] for $130. All the other ones were smaller, like Charlie's Grilled Subs for $6.99," she said.
Sheriff Rick Ramsay said many people could be the victim of skimmers, which are essentially handheld devices that can collect numbers from a credit or debit card.
"If the card gets close enough to it, it'll read the number off the back. A lot of time you see them used in convenience stores. Those types of places are very prone," he said.
"Then they have your number and a lot of people in Miami or bigger areas pay for these numbers. The people are collecting these numbers. They're generally collecting them to sell in bulk," Ramsay added.
If you think your cards have been compromised, call the Sheriff's Office and your bank.
What to do if you find fraudulent charges on your debit or credit cards
Many Middle Keys residents have fallen victim to widespread credit and debit card fraud the past two months. Following are some tips, according to www.idtheft.gov, about what to do if victimized:
-- Ask one of the three credit reporting companies to put a fraud alert on your credit report. According to the site, one company must tell the other two of the alert. It can make it more difficult for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. The alert lasts 90 days and can be renewed.
-- After placing a fraud alert, order copies of your credit report from each of the
reporting companies. The reports can be used to find unauthorized charges or accounts. The site recommends requesting that only the last four digits of your Social Security number be shown on the report.
If you find fraudulent charges, contact your bank and follow up in writing.
-- If necessary, created an identity-theft report to help deal with credit reporting companies, debt collectors and businesses that gave the identity thief credit or opened new accounts in your name.
The site says the report can be used to remove fraudulent information from a credit report and stop companies from collecting debt or from selling the debt to another company.
www.idtheft.gov features step-by-step directions to complete an identity theft report.