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First Federal bank is investigating fraudulent debit card charges that affected 16 of its account holders in southern Beaufort County.
A spokeswoman for the Charleston-based bank said all of those affected have been refunded their money and issued replacement cards.
All of the fraudulent charges were made from Puerto Rico, according to First Federal spokeswoman Kellee McGahey, who said bank representatives were first alerted to the issue June 12.
"This breach happened at a merchant level," she said, adding that customers at other banks could also have been affected. "This is very common in our industry."
She declined to reveal which local store or stores might have been the sites of the breaches.
She indicated a federal agency might also investigate the breach along with the bank's internal fraud investigator, but declined to specify which agency.
"It's our responsibility to make sure our customers are safe, and that's what we've done," McGahey said.
The Bluffton Police Department and the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office said they had no knowledge of the matter.
John Kenney of the U.S. Secret Service's Charleston office -- which often investigates cases of bank fraud in Beaufort County -- said that while his office has not been contacted by First Federal to assist in an investigation, such security breaches are occurring more often.
"A lot of times merchants have security weaknesses with their point-of-sale mechanisms," he said. Technology advancements have made it possible for criminals to access them remotely and even internationally, he said.
"Why stick somebody up with a pistol and risk five years in prison for the robbery and two for the gun for a paltry amount of cash, when you can cross borders at will instead?"