Card cracking scam dies down

By Rachel Scaman

Police say educational efforts have helped lead to one of the longest lulls in “cracked card” crimes in 10 years.

Cracking cards occurs when recruiters get a PIN and a debit card from a person and deposit counterfeit checks into the person’s account. They withdraw money from the checks before the bank realizes the check is fraudulent. Most local card crackers are students, said DeKalb Det. Angel Reyes, and people who participate by sharing their debit card and PIN with the recruiter can face the same charges as the card crackers.

Students “might need the money, but this isn’t the way to do it,” Reyes said. “It’s against the law in every facet.”

Each card cracker receives $2,000 to $6,000 per victim, said NIU Sgt. Larry Ellington. Those who give the recruiters their PIN and card are lured in with promises of money.

Ellington said prior to April, when the last cracked card report was made, police could expect three or four cracked card reports a month during a semester. The problem is bigger than those numbers suggest, he said.

“It [was] not uncommon to have one a week, but it’s not truly indicative of the actual problem,” Ellington said. “When [TCF Bank and NIU police] exchange information it’s like [NIU police will say] ‘We’ve has four this month’ and [TCF will say] ‘We’ve had 20.’”

When card cracking started 10 years ago, NIU received a great deal of exposure to cracked card crimes and its students were victimized, Ellington said. Cracking cards used to be facilitated at NIU events, parties or in residence halls, he said. That has changed as recruiters take to the Internet.

Many recruiters come from Chicagoland, Ellington said, because the proximity of NIU to Chicago offers “a level of convenience.”

NIU has attempted to make people aware of this situation: An Oct. 5, 2013, NIUToday news release warned students of the scam, and the NIU Police Department has posted warnings on its website, Police have made the most contact with students through UNIV 101, Ellington said.

“We are always hitting the UNIV 101 classes, but when we see a spike that’s when we try to get the word back out through media,” Ellington said.

All TCF can do is encourage its customers to file a report, and only 25 percent or less of card cracking victims do, Ellington said.