Secret Service investigating organized card-skimming ring

SEATTLE -- The Secret Service is investigating a card-skimming ring that began in Canada and has since spread to Seattle, where thieves have made off with thousands of dollars using stolen credit card numbers.

Surveillance photos at ATMs helped investigators identify some of the people involved in the operation, who used bilked Canadians out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

According to a criminal complaint, card information was compromised at coffee shops in Vancouver, British Columbia. After stealing that data, investigators say the thieves stored it on white plastic cards and then used those cards to withdraw cash in Seattle.

The case began after Canadian authorities reached out to a BECU investigator after they identified a group performing the fraud at local credit union ATMs. The investigator later connected the accounts to Van City Credit Union in Vancouver.

The banks reported losses of more than $200,000 and more than $385,000 in attempted loss.

Nearly two weeks ago, law enforcement arrested Dennis Nguyen in connection with the case. He admitted to being involved in the scheme and explained his role as the middle man who delivered the bags full of equipment, cash and blank cards.

"These kinds of activities are going to happen. Fortunately they can be traced and especially in cases where you have an organized ring that is being very greedy and following the same pattern," said consumer advocate Linda Criddle.

Criddle said people can help protect themselves by using ATMs located inside banks rather than outside. That said, it is a wildcard when thieves skim card information at businesses like coffee shops.

A BECU spokesman said he still doesn't know how the group was able to set up skimmers at the coffee shops in Canada.

"It's easy. All you need is a moment. They're very discreet. It's not like there's this big thing in front of you that every consumer is going to see and wonder about," Criddle said.

Criddle said anyone who has their information compromised should consider changing banks, as well as their online information.