Several students who shopped at the McGill Bookstore early this semester were victims of a debit card fraud operation.
Students reported having amounts up to $1,000 extracted from their accounts after using their cards at the bookstore between January 2 and January 18, according to Douglas Sweet, the director of McGill’s Media Relations Office.
“The University understands there was a card-cloning operation of some kind at the bookstore,” Sweet said.
Card cloning is a common fraud practice that occurs when a debit card is processed through a machine that electronically accesses and stores the card’s information. Someone later retrieves and abuses the information.
“I went to the bank to ask why my card wouldn’t work and they told me $1,000 had been taken out of my account,” said Andrew, U4 Arts. Andrew requested that his last name not be included.
Ivy Johnson, U3 Arts, had a similar experience.
“The bank said my card had probably been double-swiped to store my information and someone had seen my PIN,” Johnson said.
Upon learning about the situation, SSMU VP External Max Silverman published a Facebook note requesting anyone who saw his or her bank accounts compromised recently to come forth, garnering 17 comments in two days.
“It was interesting in my mind how many people responded so quickly to the note,” Silverman said. “There definitely is a problem in the area.”
It is unclear how many students were victims of card-cloning activities. Banks are hesitant to discuss the matter due to issues of libel and confidentiality, but upon requesting a new card students have reported being asked if they went to McGill.
Chris Sze Cheuk Cheung, U3 Management and an employee at a Montreal bank, explained that banks were alerted of the activity.
“Thursday [February 14] we got a list of compromised debit cards, [mine included],” Cheung posted on Facebook, explaining that when cardholders came to get new cards, his coworker asked where they went to school.
“Everyone was from McGill!” Cheung wrote.
Banks are required to reimburse victims for their losses. Melanie Minos, Manager of Media Relations at the Canadian Banking Association, urged consumers to obscure the terminal when entering their PIN.
“In these situations there is usually a pinhole camera somewhere nearby to capture the PIN. A skimmed debit card is useless without it,” Minos said.
She noted that not all the students necessarily had money taken from their account.
“Once the location of a fraud has been detected, the bank launches an immediate investigation and may put blocks on other cards that use that terminal as a protection measure,” Minos said.
McGill is unaware of any permanent losses to cardholders, but urges anyone who used their debit card at the bookstore in early January to check their bank account status with their financial institution to ensure there are no irregularities.
According to Sweet, the University is still examining the situation, investigating the Bookstore and Moneris, the company that handles the bookstore’s bank transactions.