Area credit union experiences 'uptick in fraud'

Fraudulent transactions at Wal-Mart stores in other states are part of a pattern of fraud experienced by Mid-Minnesota Federal Credit Union account holders this week.

Fraudulent transactions at Wal-Mart stores in other states are part of a pattern of fraud experienced by Mid-Minnesota Federal Credit Union account holders this week.

Christopher Tangen, chief technology officer at Mid-Minnesota, reported the credit union saw an "uptick in fraud" on its bank cards.

"We see fraud every day," Tangen said. "Obviously, when you see upticks with it, that's the alarming piece of it. That usually indicates some sort of larger (breach)."

Tangen was unable to confirm whether those affected were specific to the Brainerd lakes area or whether those with accounts at other area banks and credit unions were also affected. He said Mid-Minnesota's card processor, Visa, has not issued a Compromised Account Management System alert specific to this week's activity.

"We have an area where we have a lot of cards in the Brainerd/Baxter area affected," Tangen said. "And we all shop at the same spots. (But) nobody knows where it's coming from yet."


Tangen said a number of account holders experienced fraudulent transactions for $49 each at Wal-Mart stores. Tangen suspected the transaction amount was not a coincidence, noting those below $50 do not require a checking of funds or a customer signature.

Tuesday, a caller reported the fraudulent use of a debit card at a Wal-Mart in New Mexico to the Baxter Police Department. The report noted the bank, which was not listed, canceled the card. Becca Clemens of Brainerd learned Wednesday of similar transactions on her Mid-Minnesota account at a Wal-Mart in California. Kori Flowers of Brainerd, who also banks at Mid-Minnesota, checked her account after learning of her co-worker Clemens' situation. She found fraudulent transactions at a Wal-Mart in Colorado. Both women work at the Brainerd Dispatch office.

Although the fraudulent transactions are occurring at Wal-Mart stores, Tangen said this does not mean a breach originated at Wal-Mart. It's too early to tell what the origin of the fraud might be, he said.

"What's happening at this point is our card provider is ... basically trying to track down what's the commonality," Tangen said. "At this point, we just don't know. I wish we did."

Tangen said it could originate from something that happened three months ago, for example, and the card numbers are just now being used.

The credit union has reached out to other institutions to determine whether they've experienced similar upticks, Tangen said. He said one they spoke to also noticed an increase in fraud, although he did not identify the institution.

Representatives from two other financial institutions with locations in the Brainerd lakes area told the Brainerd Dispatch Friday they did not see an increase in fraud particular to this week, although both noted card fraud is a reality banks and credit unions are dealing with on a daily basis.

"We have had our fair share," said Michelle Goeller, assistant vice president of operations at Brainerd Savings and Loan. "But it's not been an excessive amount this week."


She said she also noticed a pattern of fraudulent transactions falling just below certain thresholds, such as $98 or $99 transactions at gas pumps, when they do see them occur.

Diane Viehauser, vice president of operations at Crow Wing Power Credit Union, said although they've seen an increase in card fraud over the past six months, they did not notice anything specific to this week.

Calls to Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union, RiverWood Bank and Bremer Bank were not returned Friday, and a spokesperson for BN Credit Union was unavailable. A representative from BlackRidgeBANK returned the call but was not reached in time to comment.

Tangen said if Visa issues an alert, Mid-Minnesota account holders will be informed. He noted the activity slowed down by the end of the week. Until then, he reminded consumers to watch their accounts, be aware of tampering with unattended card readers and to keep their cards in their sight as much as possible.

Tips for account safety

Incorporating a few practices into a daily routine can help keep cards and account numbers safe, the Federal Trade Commission reports.

For example, keep a record of account numbers, their expiration dates and the phone number to report fraud for each company in a secure place. Don't lend a card to anyone-even kids or roommates-and don't leave cards, receipts or statements around the home or office. When cards are no longer needed, shred them before throwing them away.

Other fraud protection practices include:


• Don't give account numbers to anyone on the phone unless to a company known to be reputable. Never done business with them before? Do an online search first for reviews or complaints.

• Carry cards separately from a wallet. It can minimize losses if someone steals the wallet or purse. And carry only the card needed for that outing.

• During a transaction, keep an eye on the card. Make sure to get it back before walking away.

• Never sign a blank receipt. Draw a line through any blank spaces above the total.

• Save receipts to compare with the statement.

• Open bills promptly-or check them online often-and reconcile them with the purchases made.

• Report any questionable charges to the card issuer.

• Notify the card issuer of address changes or travel plans.


• Don't write an account number on the outside of an envelope.

-- Tips from the Federal Trade Commission. Visit for more information on consumer protection.

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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