Blythewood woman warns others after falling victim to ATM skimmer

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A Blythewood woman is warning others to be on the lookout after her debit card information was stolen when thieves installed a skimmer on her bank's ATM.

Brandy Dunaway is a small business owner in Blythewood and said she's still working to get her feet under her after three years in business. One day after work last year, she stopped by her bank's ATM to make a withdrawal. The next morning, however, she work up to an unwelcome sight.

"I had three notices they had stolen money from me," Dunaway said. "They had gone downtown and used it and taken money out of another ATM machine."

Dunaway said the thief withdrew $800 using her debit card information and getting the money back was more difficult than she anticipated.

"I called the bank and its fraud department and let them know what happened and they let me know someone had found the device," she said. "After three interviews with them to prove I didn't do it, they told me I'd get my money back in 10 days."

While she was relieved she would have her money returned to her, the 10 days it took to get it back made life difficult in the interim for Dunaway.

"That was my rent, my lights, my insurance and my water for the building," she said. "When they took it, it put me down for 10 days."

Fast forward a year and Dunaway found herself in a similar situation, but was able to get ahead of the thieves.

"I went to deposit my checks like I always do and I noticed the card reader was dark green and ours is light green," she said. "It was boxy, too, it wasn't slick. I tried to pull on it and when I pulled it gave so I called 911."

The Richland County Sheriff's Department has identified a suspect in that skimmer case as Suraj Ionita, 17. He is currently wanted on charges of attempted bank fraud and criminal possession of a financial transaction card forgery device. Dunaway located the device on April 21, 2018 and the bank's surveillance footage captured pictures of Ionita.

Richland County deputies say anyone can fall victim to a skimmer and once someone realizes their card has been used, it's often too late.

"These people purchase the identical items off the internet and usually attach it using double sided tape," Sgt. Andrew Caldwell said. "There will often be a pinhole camera recording the keypad to get your pin number. So now they have the information off the magnetic strip on the back of the card and your pin."

To prevent becoming a victim, Sgt. Caldwell said to be vigilant of those around while making an ATM withdrawal. If there is anyone standing nearby watching you make a transaction, he encourages people to call 911.

"Pull on the card reader and if it comes off, it wasn't supposed to be there in the first place," he said. "You're not going to break an ATM by simply pulling on one part of it."

Sgt. Caldwell said the thieves must return to the ATM the skimmer device is installed on to retrieve the stolen information. Therefore, if you find one, call the authorities immediately,

Anyone with any information regarding the suspect in the April 21, 2018 skimming case is urged to call Crimestoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC.

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