Ripped off

Published 11:29 pm Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Dozens of customers who have recently bought gasoline at the Murphy USA station in front of Walmart on North Main Street are reporting missing money from their debit-card accounts.

The victims come from all over Suffolk — Holland, downtown, North Suffolk, Whaleyville and everywhere in between — and even from other states.

They’re all ages and races, and very few know each other. But they all have a couple things in common — they’ve all purchased gas at Murphy USA on North Main Street in the past month or so, and very few of them have been to California recently.

That’s where scammers who have stolen dozens of debit card numbers lately have been making ATM withdrawals from the victims’ accounts.

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They got Teresa Norfleet for almost $383 after doing a balance inquiry on her checking account. Only about $5 was left when they were done.

“I was very lucky,” she said. “They weren’t able to get my paycheck.”

Norfleet’s paycheck was direct-deposited only a few hours after the thieves were done.

Norfleet says she gets gas at the Murphy USA station on North Main Street about once a week. Suffolk police have recorded 42 debit-card fraud victims who purchased fuel at that station during the month of May. In neighboring Gates County, N.C., the victims number in the hundreds.

“It’s been the cheapest station,” Norfleet said, noting she also works nearby, so it’s convenient.

Company officials from Murphy USA came to Suffolk on Monday to examine their equipment. They contend there is no indication of a security breach at the Suffolk station.

Like Norfleet, Paula Ruiz has never even been to California, where scammers withdrew $300 from her account and tried to make an additional $500 withdrawal that got denied.

“Thank goodness my bank notified me through their fraud prevention hotline,” she said.

Ruiz, who said she usually gets her gas at Murphy USA, used her debit card in Suffolk on Memorial Day weekend before going to Virginia Beach with her family. Less than two hours later, someone used her debit card information to make the California withdrawals.

“It’s gotten to a point where you have to almost think about using cash all the time,” she said. “You just don’t know what else they could have gotten their hands on.”

Ashley Childress noticed she had become a victim when she was looking at her account online.

“I noticed that some money was taken out of our savings account,” said Childress, who noted there also was a pending transaction against her checking account.

The scammers got $400 from Childress’ account. She hasn’t been to California in seven years.

Childress reported the incident to her bank, and then reported it to police when she saw news reports about the rash of frauds.

“I have gotten gas there in the past month,” Childress said of Murphy USA. “But I’ve gotten gas at other places as well.”

Childress said she is amazed at all the various ways thieves can use technology to harm other people.

“They should take their knowledge and use it wisely,” she said, “with something they can make money and not worry about getting in trouble.”

Suffolk police continue to investigate the frauds, city spokeswoman Debbie George said Tuesday.