The United Virginia Bank said yesterday that it will have to absorb the $140,130 loss incurred when a Northern Virginia man used a stolen Visa credit card to obtain that amount, in $10 and $20 bills, from three automatic teller machines in the Washington area.
Bank spokesman Neil Cotiaux said that under federal law the issuing financial institution is responsible for any such losses and the card holder's liability for improper charges is limited to $50.
Michael Anthony Caputo, 31, of 7901 Wolf Run Hills Rd., Fairfax Station, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Washington Monday to a single count of credit card fraud in the withdrawals Oct. 19 and 20.
Secret Service officials, who investigated the fraud, have said it is unclear how Caputo obtained the credit card, which was issued by United Virginia to John D. Schrott Jr., 905 Frome La., McLean. Schrott formerly headed Vortex Corp., which was involved in 1974 in a $26 million Portuguese wine scheme that was investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission. He was not accused of any criminal violations.
Schrott told the Secret Service that he had last used the card, and two others, Oct. 4 in Wrightsville, Pa., and did not recall what had happened to them after then. He could not be reached for comment about the matter.
United Virginia Bank officials also disclosed yesterday that their computer program, not the Visa credit card network's, approved the repeated transactions -- more than 400 in about 48 hours.
T. Michael Green, a United Virginia assistant vice president in information systems, said that when Caputo used two First American Bank automatic teller machines in the District his request for funds was transmitted through the Visa telecommunications system to the bank's computers that provide on-line authorization for customers.
When the first request for $300 went into the bank's computers, they verified that the correct personal identification number had been entered, determined that the amount was available from the card's line of credit, and charged Schrott's account.
This information was then relayed back through the Visa system to the automatic teller machine.
However, Green said, when subsequent requests for $300 were received by the bank's computers from the same bank's teller machines, the computers read them as simply repetitions of the first transaction. In those instances, he said, the computers did not check the credit amounts, but believing the same transaction was being reentered, immediately approved them.
Green said that the computer program, which was prepared by the bank, was about 10 years old and originated before the widespread use of electronic funds transfer.
"We were notified of the problem one Thursday about 2 p.m., uncovered the problem after a few hours and installed a new program the next morning," Green said.