Riah Roe, a junior, went online to check his debit card balance in early October, wondering whether a paycheck had been added to his account. Instead of a paycheck, he found $1,200 missing and a recent purchase from Hat World.
“And I didn’t even know what Hat World was,” Roe said.
Roe then saw another purchase he did not recognize and notified the bank, the Police Department and Public Safety about his missing funds. The unknown purchases on his account happened over a three-day period, and he noticed them almost a week after they began, he said.
An investigation by the Moorhead Police Department is ongoing following the identity thefts of three Concordia students and one employee. Roe said his experience taught him that identity theft can happen to anyone, even at a safe college like Concordia.
Two students had approached Concordia’s Public Safety department before Roe, both reporting their debit card information stolen. There were two commonalities with the first reporters’ spending records: purchases at an online store and use of the Wells Fargo Automated Teller Machine in Knutson Center.
Public Safety sent a Timely Notice e-mail to everyone at Concordia on Oct. 12 after hearing of Roe’s missing funds and that he had also used the Knutson Center ATM.
Following the Timely Notice, a fourth victim, a Concordia employee who had recently used the Knutson Center ATM, reported missing funds from August.
“[The fourth victim] didn’t put two and two together before the Timely Notice,” said Bill MacDonald, director of Public Safety.
All four victims had used the Wells Fargo ATM in Knutson around the time their identity was stolen, MacDonald said.
The thefts and spending occurred from the end of August until Oct. 9, he said, three days before the campus-wide e-mail was sent.
No long-term financial injury will affect the victims, MacDonald said, as they all either have been or will be reimbursed by their banks. None of the victims were Wells Fargo customers, and would be reimbursed by their personal banks, he said.
MacDonald said students should keep their eyes open and know what to look for to prevent identify theft.
If the identity thefts happened at the campus ATM, it would have been due to skimmers on the outside of the machine. An explanation and diagrams of skimmers were included in the e-mail sent by campus security, so students would know what to look for to keep their information safe, MacDonald said.
Skimmers are temporary attachments that go over the area a customer would slide their card, recording the card’s number. The owner of the skimmer would return to the ATM after some time, remove the skimmer, and take the information. There could also be cameras attached and keypad overlays to record account information.
Public Safety would have had no idea a skimmer was on the ATM if the victims had not come forward, MacDonald said. Whether the Knutson ATM was the place of theft, however, is still under investigation, he said.
There are hundreds of transactions on the Knutson ATM each week, MacDonald said, and it is a widely used machine, the only one on campus.
“Hopefully now that people know what to look for they’ll know to notify us,” MacDonald said.
Espen Engelberg, a sophomore, noticed the theft after his friend, another victim, noticed he was missing funds. They were the first to report the thefts to Public Safety. Engelberg checked his online bank account and found about $4,000 missing in early October. He said the money was used a couple days before he realized it was missing. Stores listing purchases he did not recognize were Target, Victoria’s Secret and restaurants.
Within two days, Engelberg’s bank in Norway reimbursed him for the missing funds, he said.
Since the theft, Engelberg has gotten two bank accounts: one for spending and one for storage. He makes sure to check his accounts more often, he said. In addition to card safety, Engelberg said he is now more aware of his belongings.
“I feel secure at Concordia,” he said, “but you’re never sure.”
Engelberg said he would feel comfortable leaving his laptop unattended on campus, as long as it was hidden. He would never leave wallet unattended, however, and now prefers to keep it in his shirt pocket.
“If [my identity] was taken from the [Knutson] ATM,” he said, “they have to [have been] here somewhere.”
It is known that the transactions were made on the East Coast, MacDonald said, as they were in-person transactions at restaurants and stores. There is video surveillance of a suspect in a retail store, he said, using information stolen from Concordia.
ATM identity thefts are uncommon in this area, MacDonald said, and this is the first theft of this nature at Concordia.
“Even the Police Department does not remember this happening in the Fargo-Moorhead area,” he said.
MacDonald said to use common sense with debit card use, whether it be at an ATM or online. Never give personal information like social security card numbers, birth date, or debit card numbers, he said, unless you intentionally are using the service that asked for it.
MacDonald said to be aware of anything out of place on an ATM: key pad overlays, tilted tiles or anything that seems loose. If something seems out of place, report it immediately, either to Public Safety or the Moorhead Police Department, MacDonald said.
Thefts on campus are rare, MacDonald said. Bike thefts are the big problem, he said, but this year has been better than last year. Unlocked bikes or expensive ones have had their locks cut in the past, MacDonald said.
Students should be careful with valuables, MacDonald said. Leaving belongings – like laptops, iPods, and cell phones – unattended on campus could lead to stolen property, he said.
“People are honest on this campus,” MacDonald said. “If people find things they turn them into lost and found.”
Roe physically lost his debit card, by dropping it, two times while at Concordia. People always turned it into the lost and found, he said.
“It’s hard not to feel safe because of that,” he said. “Especially in a place like Fargo-Moorhead where you don’t expect crime, but it only takes one time [for something] to be gone forever.”
While both Engelberg and Roe were reimbursed by their personal banks, Roe had to wait a while longer for his missing funds to be returned.
“I was broke for about two weeks,” he said.
Roe no longer owns a debit card, and now thinks it is safer to have a credit card. Having debit card information stolen is different from having a wallet stolen, Roe said, because it can happen and you do not notice until later.
“You’re in class [when your identity is stolen],” he said, “or eating dinner when it happens. You have no idea. You just feel vulnerable. Once it’s happened, it’s happened.”
Roe said he thought he was safe before his identity was stolen. He avoided online shopping and did not give out credit card information or his social security number. Because he did all these things to prevent theft, what happened to him was more frustrating, he said.
“It doesn’t just happen to naïve people,” he said. “It can happen to anyone.”
Julie Guggemos is a senior at Concordia studying English Writing. In addition to her position as PULSE Editor at the Concordian, she is also an intern at the High Plains Reader, a publication out of Fargo, ND, and a tutor at Concordia’s Writing Center. After graduation Julie plans to attend a publishing program and look for work in the publishing industry.