'Card cracking' latest fraud scheme targets millennials

Participants in scheme can face 30 years in prison

PEMRBOKE PARK, Fla. – Sitting in his office, Christopher Catania pulls up a text message on his computer screen from someone asking if he's in need of money.

"You see it says, 'Hello. Are you low on cash? I can help you, give me a text,'" Catania, a Wells Fargo Senior Vice President of Customer Experience for South Florida said. 

The text, which promises the recipient easy cash, and is known is part of a the latest fraud scheme targeting teens and young adults, called  "card cracking." 

"Card cracking is a very serious form of fraud," Coral Springs Detective Jason DeLuca said.   

Catania knows of this threat all too well.

"This is a perfect example of a posting on Twitter where you’ll see money," Christopher Catania said, showing off more screen shots of posts from people trying to commit bank fraud on social media.  

Using social media with promises of fast cash, fraudsters lure young people, tricking them into handing over their debit cards and PIN numbers claiming a return on investment.

Millennials are a key target for this new scheme, although there have been cases in which high school students have been targeted as well.

"They need money," DeLuca said. "They have student loan debt. They are in jobs where they are possibly making minimum wage. So the appeal for making money with essentially little or no work is obviously there in a great way."

Here’s the twist, those targeted  millennials often become participants in the fraud scheme, Catania said, adding that fraudsters put falsified checks in a bank account and pull out the cash with the promise of a kickback.

"So they say to the account holder 'Oh I'll give you a few hundred dollars to keep a portion of the check,'" said Catania. "Call your banking institution to claim fraud and you’ll be covered, and that’s not true, of course."

This is because a bank account holder is responsible for checks that come from their account, and if found to be fraudulent they could face criminal charges.

"Technically it could be up to 30 years and that’s why it’s a very serious offense," Catania said.

Many of the victims of card cracking do not understand they are facilitating a crime, according to American Bankers Association website.

In addition to being charged and facing three decades in prison as an accomplice to a crime, participants also risk having their own money stolen from their accounts and having unauthorized purchases made with their debit cards, the ABA said.

This is because participants consented to provide scammers access to their bank accounts, the ABA said, therefore, it is difficult for them to prove that any withdrawals or purchases made were unauthorized.

"For victims who claim that their debit cards were lost or stolen, the burden falls on the banks who are then held accountable for reimbursing the looted funds," the ABA said.

There is one easy way to avoid becoming a victim of card cracking, DeLuca said, "Don’t give out your account information to anybody."

"It's a form of identity theft," he said. "(It's) just a different version."

People are also advised not to respond to online solicitations for "easy money,"  never share account information or PIN number and do not file false fraud claims with your bank.

"Easy money is rarely legal money," Catania said.

To help consumers avoid involvement in this scam, ABA is offering the following tips:

  • Do not respond to online solicitations for "easy money." Card cracking advertisements will suggest that this is a quick, safe way to earn extra cash. Keep in mind that easy money is rarely legal money.
  • Never share your account and PIN number. Keep this information private at all times. By sharing it with others, you expose yourself to potential fraud.
  • Do not file false fraud claims with your bank. By filing a false claim, you are a co-conspirator to fraud. Banks' detection techniques for card cracking are constantly improving and suspicious claims will be investigated.
  • Report suspicious posts linked with scams. If you notice postings that appear to be linked with a possible scam, report them to the social media site. There is usually a drop down menu near the post to allow for easy reporting.