West Seattle Crime Watch: Seen this scammer? Plus – car break-in

Two incidents to alert you about this afternoon. One – word of a credit-card scammer who hit West Seattle Nursery (WSB sponsor) – with a distinctive description, and a distinctive purchase – and WSN wants to make sure other businesses are on the lookout; two, word of a car break-in – read on for details of both:

Office manager Galen Guffy at West Seattle Nursery says a woman used a stolen card to make a $700 purchase a few days ago:

It was Friday afternoon (10/24/08) and the lady who used the stolen credit card was tall, long dark hair pulled back, wearing glasses, late 40’s, early 50’s. She purchased a very distinctive fountain – a tall vertical
rock sculpture (about 5′) in a green ceramic water bowl. She drove a mid-90’s model burgundy Toyota 4Runner. She was kind of a plain jane and came off to our staff as chatty, ordinary and natural-seeming. She made a point of telling us that she’d had an eye on this particular fountain and had been wanting to buy it for quite some time. We think she may be local. She certainly acted like she’d been here before.

Galen says they subsequently found out that the credit card’s real owner had lost her purse (with the card) earlier in the week, and that her credit-card statement shows the card was used at several other West Seattle businesses. Galen adds:

This is the latest in a series of thefts and shoplifting attempts happening recently at our business. We think that tough economic times combined with the rather trusting way that we sometimes handle regular transactions (letting people load their own soil amendments on busy days, etc.) might be tempting people to try to get away with things like this more and more.

Even before we could publish this, we got a P.S. from Galen, that a West Seattle Nursery staffer who helped the credit-card scammer on Friday “saw her again at Safeway in Jefferson Square,” and they have notified police of this sighting.

(ADDED 6:30 PM: Just got a phone call from the person whose credit cards were fraudulently used. She says that in all, two of her cards from the lost purse were used at West Seattle businesses including West 5, Safeway, Starbucks, 7-11, TrueValue, and Bartell, for a total of more than $2,000, in very short order. The cards had not immediately been reported as stolen/missing because as soon as she discovered it was missing, there were several places to backtrack to look for it – but in the meantime, they kept checking with the credit-card companies to make sure no one was using the cards, and as soon as they got word of activity, when the purse still hadn’t been found, they got the cards canceled. They’re still trying to figure out if anyone is liable for those charges made before they reported the cards missing.)

Meantime, one other Crime Watch note came in today, from Ray, who lives near 36th/Brandon (map):

Just wanted to pass this on to everyone. Our car was broken into last night sometime between 9:30 PM last night (Sun 10/27) and 6:00 AM this morning (Mon 10/28). Whoever it was smashed in the passenger window and took an iPod and some chargers, etc. The car was parked in the parking space in the alley behind our house.

21 Replies to "West Seattle Crime Watch: Seen this scammer? Plus - car break-in"

  • P October 27, 2008 (4:30 pm)

    as a reminder businesses, ask for ID on every purchase, even if its just 3.00……

  • Bender October 27, 2008 (4:35 pm)

    Also, don’t leave your ipod in your car in plain view. This is just common sense–for most of us.

  • CarolPB October 27, 2008 (4:36 pm)

    I would think that if it was reported stolen, the transaction would have been declined-unless the business does not have one of those machines to run the card through

  • Pete October 27, 2008 (4:43 pm)

    Have to be careful about asking for ID on credit card purchases as VISA (and other issuers) have strict rules on asking for ID on a purchase that has been approved by their system. In most cases you cannot be turned down on a credit card purchase that has been system approved for refusing to show any ID.

  • Lachlan October 27, 2008 (4:48 pm)

    That makes no sense to me at all- why would the business not have final authority if they had concerns about the transaction? That rule seems designed to propagate fraud, not limit it.

    And, why would they ask for ID after the fact? I would think that most business ask before, especially on a large transaction such as that. Regardless, I cannot imagine how it would be legal to hold a business to a transaction that they deem risky or suspect.

  • Sarah October 27, 2008 (5:10 pm)

    Pete’s response is on the nose – it is against most credit card issuers’ merchant agreements to request ID. Merchants are also not allowed to tack on credit card fees (very common in mom & pop stores on smaller transactions, i.e. under $5.00 gets a $.50 fee). The cardholder is violating the agreement if his/her card is not signed; many people think they are being smart by putting “see ID” in the signature box, but the merchant has every right to refuse a card without an actual signature, and is certainly not required to request that ID.
    I am very interested in consumer rights and news, so I’ve become very familiar with these rules. As harsh as it may sound, you are responsible for reporting credit cards stolen – it is not a business’ responsibility to verify card ownership for each customer. Furthermore, the major card issuers will reverse fraudulent charges.

    To clarify, I do think credit card thieves are lowlifes, and I don’t think it’s the fault of the woman whose purse was stolen. Mainly replying to P and Lachlan’s comments. Sorry this happened, and I hope they catch the woman! Sounds like she’s not being too careful :-)

  • Jim McCabe October 27, 2008 (5:13 pm)

    I had all the wheels stolen off my car 2 weeks ago, with similar context. It happened late Sunday night or early Monday morning while we were asleep, and the car was parked in the alley.

    At the time the alley was very dark although we got the city to fix the street light so it’s much more illuminated now.

    I wonder if there are some crooks who make a point of breaking into cars on Sunday night. It would be interesting to see if there are any kind of statistics on this.

  • Charles October 27, 2008 (5:14 pm)


    As a condition for being able to accept credit cards, sellers have a merchant agreement between themselves and the CC companies (Visa/MC/AmEx).

    The two biggest things most companies do that violate these are requiring photo id for purchase and requiring a minimum purchase amount or charging extra for a CC transaction.

    They are allowed to compare signatures.

    The primary reason for this, from the credit card companies stand point, is to make the customers CC use as positive as possible.

    You may see the VISA rules here:

    MasterCard has a similar agreement.

  • Greg October 27, 2008 (6:07 pm)

    Interesting. So what should a consumer do when a merchant attempts to charge extra for small purchases on the CC?

    I always detest this fee, as I’d love to go completely cash-less for a variety of reasons, but won’t stomach the ridiculous finance fees for small transactions.

  • rockergirl October 27, 2008 (6:17 pm)

    McCabe – what area do you live in? We once had someone park a stolen car in our alley – jack it up – take the tires off and put the car on blocks – and leave. We heard it happening but police could not get here in time unfortunately. Thanks for the heads up so we can all be more alert these days!

  • Charles October 27, 2008 (6:24 pm)

    You can report them to MC, which offers a merchant complaint form, here.

    If they have a minimum, I usually try to make the purchase. If they add a fee, or they don’t want to charge your card below the minimum, I politely say ‘Every merchant who takes credit cards is only allowed to offer a cash discount, not charge a fee or require a minimum purchase. You are risking your ability to take credit card purchases’.

    If they do throw a fee on there, you can do the passive aggressive thing and call your credit card company and dispute the fee that they added. Just remember to keep the receipt.

  • WSB October 27, 2008 (6:31 pm)

    Just got a phone call from the original owner of the lost, then stolen/fraudulently used, credit cards. Added new info to the original post – TR

  • indaknow October 27, 2008 (7:16 pm)

    Thanks for the tip. It has always bothered me seeing the handwritten “minimum charge” signs knowing that this is not an allowed thing, but not knowing what to do about it…

  • Donna B October 27, 2008 (7:40 pm)

    I guess I am learning a little bit here too – I am a business owner who recently followed the trend and added a credit card minimum. The fees that we are charged have increased over the last 3 months to the point where we are barely breaking even if we allow a cc purchase under $4… it hardly seems worth taking them but we know what a huge convenience it is for folks. I personally dislike the “cash only” or “cash discount” idea even more. It’s a tough call but I understand all of the extra charges and fees businesses add now that I am in the same boat! Accepting credit cards is very expensive for the business owner.

  • paul October 27, 2008 (9:58 pm)

    yes, its expensive to accept cards, and when you have a charge back (stolen card, etc) you get zapped with more fees. I have learned quite a bit about the credit card business since we have changed processors and got a good education from our current processor. Just remember, when you walk into a small shop with your miles cards that are “free” to you, someone has to pay for them, and its us the business. Our fee for your miles or points is almost 4% of the bill plus 2-3 other surcharges on our end. I refuse cards that say see id or are not signed. If the customer complains I tell them to contact their provider and ask if its valid.

  • GB October 28, 2008 (5:33 am)

    I’m personally grateful! when a merchant asks for ID and I thank them. Our credit card # was stolen a few years ago and though we we’re responsible for the charges the hassle was unbelievable. The ID check can stop fraud. I’m all for it.

  • Mags October 28, 2008 (6:05 am)

    Even though there is an agreement with Visa or Mastercard to not request ID (they can if the signature doesn’t match) or to not allow a minimum charge, I have worked in financial institutions for over 30 years and all of the complaints that I have forwarded on from customers, I don’t think anyone has ever been punished by the card companies for bending the rules. Also, the financial institution almost always takes the hit when a stolen card is used. The only time I have seen a customer take a hit is if they refuse to file a police report (and you know they were complicit (ie family member) or if they were outside of the 60 day rule (you have only a certain amount of time to dispute a charge). I am glad this dialogue is going on, but none of the west seattle merchants will be out of any money, just the bank where the credit cards were issued.

  • Gunnar October 28, 2008 (8:57 am)

    Between Saturday evening and Sunday morning, in the neighborhood by Denny Middle School, a pickup truck was broken into by somebody who apparently knew how to gain easy access to Ford vehicles. The door lock was broken by somebody jamming a key blank into the lock and breaking the tumblers. They took a cellphone charger and some CD’s.

  • Dietrich October 28, 2008 (1:09 pm)

    Point of Clarification: Per the Visa Agreement you can ASK for ID, you can not REQUIRE it to complete the purchase. I.E. If you ask, and they say no, and the signatures check out, you have to complete the purchase. But most of the time if you ask for ID, the consumer will assume they have to provide it anyway. SO, my recommendation is ask away! Here’s the text from the agreement:

    “When should you ask a cardholder for an official government ID? Although Visa rules do not preclude [prevent, not allow] merchants from asking for cardholder ID, merchants cannot make an ID a condition of acceptance. Therefore, merchants cannot refuse to complete a purchase transaction because a cardholder refuses to provide ID. Visa believes merchants should not ask for ID as part of their regular card acceptance procedures. Laws in several states also make it illegal for merchants to write a cardholder’s personal information, such as an address or phone number, on a sales receipt.” From Rules for Visa Merchants Card Acceptance and Chargeback Management Guidelines Page 29

  • Westwood neighbor October 28, 2008 (1:27 pm)

    No one mentioned or asked if the cards were actual credit, rather than debit, cards. The rules governing transactions and liability for debit cards, which also have Visa, Mastercard or other logos, vary among institutions. It is up to consumers to know how specific financial institutions will handle loss, theft and overdraft fees, which may be different for their debit cards versus credit cards: how much time before the discovery must be reported to the institution, what happens when overdraft fees result from theft, what the maximum loss is to the consumer, etc.

  • jv October 29, 2008 (9:53 pm)


    “Also, the financial institution almost always takes the hit when a stolen card is used.”

    Keep in mind, if a local business accepts a stolen credit card, after time when the cardholder disputes the charge, which is more than likely to happen, the business will take a hit in the form of losing the item which was sold AND having the amount of the fraudulent transaction reversed. Obviously this hit takes on varying degrees given the business type, ie. a $700 rock sculpture at WS Nursery vs. a $2 cup of coffee.

    Great comments referring to V&MC guidelines!

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