FAIRMONT - Local law enforcement and banks received more than 200 reports of credit and debit card fraud from area residents in the past week.
An investigation has identified a common point of purchase as El Agave, a popular restaurant in Fairmont. It appears the restaurant was the victim of a computer hack against their point-of-sale system.
El Agave was unaware of the hack prior to being contacted by law enforcement, and management has cooperated fully with the investigation, according to Fairmont Police Chief Greg Brolsma.
Restaurant management reported to police they saw no warning signs on their systems that a breach had taken place. They have taken immediate steps to implement a new system to prevent further unauthorized data collection from their computers.
"On this World Wide Web, we are having to become more vigilant," Brolsma said.
The fraudulent charges have been made online and at stores in at least thirteen states for hundreds, or even thousands of dollars. Some reported seeing a smaller charge for $1-$5 before seeing a larger attempted charge. Most of the fraudulent charges are being refunded.
Members of Fairmont Police Department and Martin County Sheriff's Office met with area bankers Monday to discuss the fraudulent activity, which increased significantly late last week. Most area banks had some customers who were impacted by the unauthorized charges.
"It seems to be centered in the Fairmont and Blue Earth areas," said Fairmont Police Chief Greg Brolsma.
The cardholders had all made purchases at El Agave over the past several months, dating as far back as December 2013. It is suspected that an Internet hack allowed an outside entity to install malware software to track, capture and transmit credit information that was legitimately collected by the business to make payments. Once this credit card information is stolen, it's common for the hacker to sell the card data on Internet black market sites or forums that cater to such activity.
Local banks have been busy responding to the breach. Bank Midwest sent an email to customers that stated in cases of recurrent fraudulent activity, they have the ability to temporarily block transactions in areas where it is being reported. Another local bank, Profinium, reportedly was in the process of contacting around 500 customers whose credit or debit card information was compromised.
The public is encouraged to review their credit and debit card history for unauthorized charges against their accounts, and report any unauthorized purchases to the credit card company or local bank.
Anyone who has used their credit or debit card at El Agave since November 2013 are encouraged to contact their bank to see what preventative measures should be taken.
The investigation into this broad-reaching credit card fraud is expected to take several weeks to complete. Fairmont Police Department is being assisted by the U.S. Secret Service.
On the Web:
How to avoid fraud: www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0060-10-ways-avoid-fraud
What to do if your credit card is stolen: www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0213-lost-or-stolen-credit-atm-and-debit-cards