‘Unwitting Co-Conspirator' Teens and Young Adults Targeted in ‘Card Cracking' Scheme

‘Card Cracking’ on the rise; what you need to know 

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“Want to make money?” Getting a message like that on social media would perk anyone’s interest, especially a young adult.

A 19-year-old Maryland teen says while on Snapchat she received a similar message about making fast cash and responded, “Yes!”  

The News4 I-Team is protecting the teen’s identity for her safety, because she’s part of an ongoing investigation into a scheme she got caught up in called “card cracking.”

The teen says after she responded to the post, she was asked to provide her bank account information. The scammer told her it was for a car purchase she was helping facilitate. 

But it didn’t take long for this teen’s mother to realize something was going on.

“So I went to pay my monthly bills, utilities, and all my payments were being declined,” she said.

The money in the joint account she shared with her daughter was gone. 

Little did the family know they had just been sucked into an illegal scheme that police say is on the rise in the area. Officer Cody Hobbs with the financial crimes unit in Montgomery County said scammers want access to their victim’s bank account so they can use it to cash either fake or “washed” checks.

"So, a lot of the time the scammers or the fraudsters make it seem like it is a legitimate thing that you are doing. So, a lot of the time they don’t understand that what they’ve done is actually illegal,” Hobbs said. 

Here’s How Card Cracking Works

A fraudster finds their victim on social media and convinces them to fork over their banking information.

The scammer deposits checks into that account using a mobile app and promises the victim will get some of that money. 

Then the thief immediately withdraws the funds at an ATM and disappears.

In this case, the teen never received any money for her part.

"So, you kind of become an unwitting co-conspirator to the fraud," Hobbs said.

The Checks

The checks being deposited are either fake, like they were in this victim’s case, or stolen from a mailbox -- a scam News4 has been reporting on for months called “check washing.”

We met with three victims of a “check washing” scheme who all said they sent checks from mailboxes in Silver Spring, Maryland, and in all cases, the checks were stolen and rewritten for thousands of dollars more.

“The one check was rewritten from $55 to $10,000,” said Emilio Alonso, a check washing victim. 

“I made a big mistake”

By the time the teenager’s mother learned her daughter was caught up in a card cracking scheme, it was too late. Their joint account was cleaned out. Not only did they lose the money in the account, but they were also now on the hook for the amount of the fake checks, a total of nearly $18,000.

 The American Bankers Association is so concerned about card cracking it launched an industry-wide initiative to educate consumers on bank fraud. 

  • Don’t respond to easy money solicitations,
  • Never share your account number and PIN,
  • Don’t file false fraud claims with your bank. Fraudsters may ask you to, but doing so could make you an accomplice.

The Maryland victims are still trying to resolve the issue with their bank, but unfortunately, the bank says it is not responsible for refunding them the money.

One other thing parents need to know: These scams can escalate to something even scarier. In this case, the scammer convinced the victim to meet in person to hand over her ID and other personal information. Police said they are actively pursuing a suspect. 

Reported by Susan Hogan, produced by Rick Yarborough, shot by Steve Jones and Lance Ing, and edited by Steve Jones.

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