May 27, 2011

Detectives investigating credit card fraud cases

Upper Keys – Credit card fraud is becoming more prevalent as thieves learn to steal credit card numbers over the internet. These types of cases are also very difficult for law enforcement to investigate, because suspects are often operating remotely, from another state or another country. Detectives are spending more and more time on these specialized cases, and the Sheriff’s Office has officers trained in how to investigate them correctly.

Rumors surfaced on the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page this week that someone in the upper Keys was stealing credit card numbers using a credit card skimming device. Detective Sgt. David Carey says that is not the case.

“We have had 10 credit card fraud cases in the Upper Keys in the month of May, which compared to other months is sadly enough not necessarily a high number,” Carey said. “Five of them were reported on May 25th, with what appears to be the same point of origin,” he said.

If there are other cases out there that haven’t surfaced yet, he wants to encourage those people to come forward and report it. “We can’t investigate a case we don’t know about,” he said. “It is important to report such crimes so we can stop them – that way others won’t run into the same problem,” he said.

Initial investigations into most of the cases in May showed the stolen numbers were used to purchase goods in other counties of Florida, in Texas and in New Mexico. According to Carey, this typically indicates internet fraud, rather than skimming, Carey said. Because all the cases had the same point of origin – a restaurant in the upper Keys – it is likely the business’s computers were compromised by malware on their server they didn’t even know was there.

If a business – or a person for that matter – doesn’t have adequate security software installed, they are vulnerable to malware being installed on their computers remotely. It can be done by a visit to a compromised web site, by downloading a file that is infected, or in many other ways, according to Carey.

Once the “bad guy” has the information, it is then easy for him/her so sell the credit card numbers to others on the internet who use the numbers to make fraudulent purchases.

“It is really important for people to check their credit card and debit card statements frequently for fraudulent charges,” Captain Don Fanelli, the Upper Keys District Commander said. “Credit card companies all have on line web sites where you can do this. If you find a fraudulent charge, report it to your bank or credit card company immediately, and report it to law enforcement as well,” he said.

Sheriff’s detectives will be working with the Secret Service on these cases – and on other cases county-wide. In the meantime, like all crime, people can do a lot to protect themselves as well.

1. If at all possible, use a credit card instead of a debit card. Credit cards companies will cover fraudulent charges over $50. Banks are not required to cover fraudulent charges on a debit card, although many do.
2. Keep an eye on your credit card every time you use it, and make sure you get it back as quickly as possible. Try not to let your credit card out of your sight whenever possible.
3. Be very careful to whom you give your credit card. Don't give out your account number over the phone unless you initiate the call and you know the company is reputable. Never give your credit card info out when you receive a phone call. (For example, if you're told there has been a 'computer problem' and the caller needs you to verify information.) Legitimate companies don't call you to ask for a credit card number over the phone.
4. Never respond to emails that request you provide your credit card info via email -- and don't ever respond to emails that ask you to go to a website to verify personal (and credit card) information. These are called 'phishing' scams.
5. Never provide your credit card information on a website that is not a secure site.
6. Sign your credit cards as soon as you receive them.
7. Shred all credit card applications you receive. If you don’t others can intercept them and apply for credit in your name.
8. Don't write your PIN number on your credit card -- or have it anywhere near your credit card (in the event that your wallet gets stolen).
9. Never leave your credit cards or receipts lying around.
10. Be aware of your surroundings and shield your credit card number so that others around you can't copy it or capture it on a cell phone or other camera.
11. Only carry around credit cards that you absolutely need. Don't carry around extra credit cards that you rarely use.
12. Check your credit card account frequently. Most companies have an internet site where this can be done at any time during the billing period.
13. If you find any charges that you don't have a receipt for -- or that you don't recognize -- report these charges promptly (and in writing) to the credit card issuer.
14. Shred anything with your credit card number written on it.
15. Carbon paper is rarely used these days, but if there is a carbon that is used in a credit card transaction, destroy it immediately.
16. Never write your credit card account number in a public place (such as on a postcard or so that it shows through the envelope payment window).
17. Ideally, it's a good idea to carry your credit cards separately from your wallet -- perhaps in a zippered compartment or a small pouch.
18. Never lend a credit card to anyone else.
19. If you move, notify your credit card issuers in advance of your change of address.

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