The Toronto Star
Thursday, October 9, 1997

Debit-card scam hits small firm

Electronic highway robbers hit Metro store for $248,000

by Robert Brehl, bbrehl@thestar.ca

Photo: Michael Stuparyk

THE BIG SWIPE: Donna Schinkel, left, holds up access card that allowed thieves to download cash. Partner Nigel Henderson displays transaction tape that catalogues the electronic robbery at their Let's Frame It store.
Donna Schinkel is a victim of highway robbery - the electronic kind - and she wants you to know about the hazards of debit cards.

``It's disgusting . . . another example of small business being treated badly by the big banks'', said Schinkel, co-owner of the Let's Frame It on Sheppard Ave. E. in Scarborough.

Here's Schinkel's story:

(The Royal Bank of Canada was asked for comment but declined, citing client confidentiality and not wanting to say anything during an on-going police investigation.)

``You've got a $45,000 transaction coming from a retail outlet after midnight and it doesn't ring any warning bells at the bank'', said Nigel Henderson, the other owner of the store.

Not only that, the store sells picture frames, hardly big-ticket items, and annual sales are roughly $250,000, - or the same amount electronically stolen in one night, Schinkel said.

After leaving, the suspects went to banking machines to pull out cash loaded into the debit-card accounts, and even went to a casino to use the debit cards there, Schinkel said, adding that she received this information from police.

It is not known how much actual cash the bandits pulled out or bet at the casino.

The next day, the bank initially talked about holding Let's Frame It responsible for the $248,000, but quickly backed down, Schinkel said.

``There was no security, no password to activate our machine and the bank had even told me to keep our (access) card at the cash register in a convenient place to the debit machine'', she said.

Once the investigation began on Sept. 22, the Royal froze access to bank authorization for all debit and credit cards from Let's Frame It, Henderson said.

``We can't run our business this way . . . 60 per cent of our sales are through Visa'', Schinkel said.

A couple hours after calls from The Star, the Royal reactivated Let's Frame It's link to bank authorization for credit and debit cards.

The Star also called the Royal again to see if officials would comment on what steps other customers could take to prevent such electronic thefts from happening to them. That call was not returned.

From a victim's perspective, Schinkel said the first thing is not to leave your access card near your debit machine when you lock up at night.

Asked if she might be somewhat responsible by not having an alarm - which allowed the bandits four hours inside the store - Schinkel said: ``The police were more concerned with us getting a video camera so there would be pictures than they were about an alarm.''

After 15 years as a Royal customer, she said she's going to switch banks, although she doesn't know which one to go to since it's hard to tell the difference in the way small businesses are treated.

``The smaller you are, the more troubles you have with the banks'', she said.

Copyright © 1997 by The Toronto Star. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.