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Updated: Dozens struck by debit, credit card fraud

Area residents are advised to check their bank statements following a rash of fraud reports involving misuse of credit cards and debit cards.

“We’ve really been getting hit with it today,” Detroit Lakes Police Chief Tim Eggebraaten said Thursday.

The department fielded about a dozen complaints about unauthorized charges on cards, including several made at big box stores in Texas.

As of Friday, the police department had received 35-40 complaints.

Many of the illegal charges were made on Bremer Bank cards, but a number were also made on other bank cards, Eggebraaten said.

One Bremer customer, Brian Halstensgaard of Detroit Lakes, said he lost more than $700 in 15 illegal transactions, all at a Walmart in Plano, Texas, from Wednesday afternoon through Thursday morning.

He found out about the problem via social media.

“I saw it on Facebook, checked my account, and noticed I was a victim,” he said.

“It was a rude awakening,” he added. “I would rather have found out about it from the bank.”

A bank employee told him Thursday it could take up to 10 days before the lost funds would be restored.

“That’s the part I don’t like — 10 hours would be fine,” he said. But with bills to pay, he was going to check back with Bremer officials on Friday to see if they could help with emergency funding.

“One or two transactions I could handle for 10 days, but it’s a kick in the butt to lose that kind of money,” he said.

“The ironic thing is, we always have bills to pay — one of those bills I need to pay is our newspaper subscription, and I’m being interviewed by the newspaper right now.”

Isolated incidents of credit card fraud are common, but a cluster of local cases like this one is unusual, Chief Eggebraaten said.

Investigators are looking for patterns, but have not yet found the common denominator in the local bank card case.

The fraudulent activity occurred over the past few days and centered on the Detroit Lakes area, said Bremer Bank President Ron Mueller.

Customers of Bremer and other banks were victimized by the card fraud, and lost varying amounts of money.

“It impacted quite a few customers,” Mueller said, declining to provide the specific number of customers impacted or the overall loss to the bank. But he said all Bremer customers are being made financially whole.

“Security is our No. 1 priority,” he said.

“Once we were made aware of this fraud, we attempted to reach impacted customers and make sure they are made financially whole — we will put cash back into those accounts,” he added.

The bank is still investigating the case, but has identified those customers who lost money and is attempting to contact them by phone or letter.

The bank will not ask for personal information such as bank account numbers or Social Security numbers, and customers should never give that information out over the phone, Mueller said.

Bremer is not yet sure how the bank cards were compromised, but Mueller said, “It’s unusual they would be confined to a certain area.”

Eggebraaten urged residents to check their bank and credit card accounts online or in print for any unauthorized transactions. If any are found, contact your bank or credit card company immediately.

The police department is working with other law enforcement agencies and fraud investigation units of banks and credit card companies to gather information related to the rash of bank card crimes.

If you find any unauthorized transactions, call the Detroit Lakes Police Department at 218-847-4222 to report it.