HANFORD — Police are continuing to investigate a local credit card cloning operation as more victims come forward.
Earlier this month, police began searching for an unknown man and woman who used account information from two FAST Federal Credit Union customers to make fraudulent charges. The suspects used cloned cards between Nov. 26 and Dec. 6 to buy items at stores in Hanford, Lemoore and Visalia.
Detective Sgt. James Lutz said the police have now identified eight victims from Hanford and Lemoore. All of the cloned cards were tied to FAST Federal Credit Union.
Both suspects remain at large. Police released a surveillance photo on social media on Dec. 6 and quickly identified the female suspect as Lakanda Monique Horn, 44, of Hanford. A search warrant served at Horn’s home recovered several items that had been purchased using the cloned cards.
Lutz said Horn apparently left town after police started looking for her. Horn’s family and employer reportedly have not seen or heard from her since Dec. 7. Police are still working to identify the second suspect.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Hanford Police Department at 585-2540.
Lutz said it remains unclear how the suspects cloned the cards. Similar crimes in other areas have involved “skimming” devices, which criminals can conceal at gas pumps, ATMs or other card readers to capture card information. The stolen information is then copied to a counterfeit card.
“We’re not even sure that it was a skimming device,” Lutz said. “It’s kind of weird that there are no victims from any other banks that have come forward.”
Lutz said the fact that the victims all shared a bank could suggest some kind of data breach. He said Hanford police are working with the credit union to find out how the victims’ information was compromised.
Paula Lehn, CEO of FAST Federal Credit Union, said banking institutions have varying policies about how they handle fraud cases. Lehn said the credit union asks members to report credit or debit card fraud to their local police department.
“Because we ask our members to report this fraud, and other institutions may not, it may appear that only our members are targeted,” Lehn said in an email.
FAST Federal Credit Union has branches in Hanford, Lemoore and Avenal. According to the National Credit Union Administration, the government agency that regulates and supervises federal credit unions, FAST Federal Credit Union has nearly 15,000 members.
Lehn said credit and debit card fraud tends to be more prevalent during the holiday season. Because banks can’t control how merchants protect customer data, card information can be breached at any store, restaurant, gas station or other business that accepts Visa or MasterCard.
Major retailers like Target and Home Depot have come under fire in recent years amid massive data breaches that compromised millions of customers’ card information.
“FAST had absolutely no control over these situations, yet FAST’s members were affected and FAST took the loss,” Lehn said.
Lehn said FAST Federal Credit Union discovered a skimming device at a Lemoore gas station several months ago while investigating some fraud cases. The credit union alerted the business owner who, Lehn said, was unaware of the crimes.
Earlier this month, the Lemoore Police Department said officers have found three skimming devices at Lemoore gas stations over the past year.
Lemoore police Cpl. Kyle Reynolds said officers have not found any additional devices in recent weeks. Reynolds said police received a report Tuesday regarding several Educational Employees Credit Union (EECU) members whose account information had been used in Southern California. Reynolds said the card information may have been compromised at an area gas station.
Officers checked the station but were unable to locate any skimming devices.
Reynolds said police have been urging gas station owners to place security tape over the locked access panels on each pump. If the tape is broken, Reynolds said, customers would be able to think twice before swiping their cards.
“That’s a good indication that the area has been tampered with,” Reynolds said.