STURGIS | A dozen, and possibly many more people, were victims of identity theft in Sturgis within the past month.
Reports began streaming into the Sturgis Police Department in late February and all had one common denominator -- they all had used their credit or debit card at Park Avenue Car Wash in Sturgis.
"We had a dozen reported to us and after investigating, the car wash was the one common place where they used their card," Sturgis Police Chief Jim Bush said.
Drew Grotti, Sturgis Police Detective, said he believes a card reader or skimmer may have been used to lift credit card information from whomever used the reader at that location.
He says there are a couple ways in which a thief can lift information at a credit card site. One is by placing a reader on the outside of the credit card machine, then, each time someone swipes a card, the information is gathered by the thief. The theif then comes back later to pick up the device.
The other way information is lifted is by placing a very thin magnetic card within the credit card reader itself. As customers swipe their card, the magnetic card registers and stores the numbers.
Terry Sharkey, owner of Park Avenue Car Wash, said he shut down the credit card option as soon as it was discovered there had been a breach in the system. He then called a computer expert with KT Connections in Rapid City.
"We have taken the proper steps to remedy the problem," he said. "I'm truly sorry it happened. I'm a victim along side my customers. I've been victimized terribly."
Sharkey restarted the system on Feb. 28.
"It's plum safe to use now," he said. "We are network compliant."
Sharkey said he has heard that credit card numbers from victims were used on the east coast of the U.S. as well as in Russia, Italy and China.
Bonnie Lange of Sturgis was one of the identity theft victims. Lange said she happened to check her bank account online and realized there was something awry.
"There was a transaction for $350 in Fridley, Minn., at a Walmart," she said.
But she was in Sturgis with her Wells Fargo Bank card in her possession.
"I called the number on the debit card and their first advice was to close my account immediately," she said. "And it's a good thing we did because shortly thereafter they tried to swipe it again for $600 and another $350. They made two more attempts before we shut it down."
Lange said when she posted on her Facebook account that she had been a victim of identity theft many of her friends said they, too, were victims, or they knew of others who had unauthorized withdrawals from their accounts.
Paul Bisson, president of the Wells Fargo branch in Sturgis, said he gathered staff together to review protocol on unauthorized withdrawls when calls started coming in.
"People always need to be on guard," Bisson said.
He suggests that bank customers check their bank account daily if they have online access.
"You should verify your transactions because there are all kinds of scams people can use," he said.
In Lange's case, she notified the bank, they noted the transaction as unauthorized and within a day the money was put back into her account.
And, because the account was shut down, she had to wait for a new debit card to be issued.
"I'm glad I noticed it right away and got it shut down," Lange said. "They could have done a lot of damage."