A man from Philadelphia was sentenced to 16 years in prison for stealing credit cards and identities in Connecticut earlier this year. According to an accomplice, 50-year-old Anthony Johnson prostrated himself on the floors of movie theaters and crawled, as Fox News puts it, “like a snake,” snatching credit cards from women’s purses along the way. He and female accomplices then used the names on the cards to create fake driver’s licenses, allowing them to use the stolen cards for tens of thousands of dollars on clothes, jewelry, electronics and, of course, gambling.
Anthony Johnson was convicted of multiple counts of both credit card and identity theft, and will be serving a 16-year sentence. But not all of the crooks involved with the scheme were caught.
Johnson’s crew may have disbanded, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t similar criminals pulling such unconventional heists. Fraud through email, counterfeit cards and even telephone calls are all common. The Federal Trade Commission keeps track of reported credit card fraud cases on its Consumer Sentinel Network. The 2012 statistics gives you a good idea of the type of fraud out there and how it occurs:
- The most common initial contact points for fraud are email (38%), telephone (34%) and mail (9%)
- The average reported amount stolen was $535, with consumers reporting $1.4 billion in losses in 2012
- The most frequent types of fraud are government documents/benefits (46%), credit cards (13%) and phone or utilities (10%)
So how do criminals get your bank information in the first place? Well, like Anthony Johnson, they can steal the physical copy of a credit card and create an alternate identity that allows them to use it. Or, like Melissa McCarthy’s character in Identity Theft, criminals can call your phone and impersonate a legitimate telemarketer. Then there’s the popular spear phishing method used by hackers, who create a seemingly authentic website or email grab your bank or credit card information.
Thieves who’re willing to get dirty can dig up your information by rummaging through your garbage or mail as well. Or, if they’re particularly lazy, they can simply request a change of address in your name to a location they can retrieve your mail. With this information, the thieves can begin applying for credit cards in your name.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are four simple steps you can take to discourage thieves and protect your information:
1. Actively protect your information
Don’t give your card number out over the phone (or, if you have to, ensure that the company you’re talking to is legitimate). Shred bank statements and cut up old cards if you don’t keep them for your records. If you do keep records, make sure to store them in a safe place.
2. Watch your card when it’s swiped
Dishonest employees can ‘skim’ from your bank account by leaving a credit card transaction uncompleted, adding their own purchases after you’ve left. Similarly, don’t leave blank spaces on restaurant receipts; dishonest employees have been known to fill in their own tips.
3. Check your statements every month
Always check your statements. If you notice any unfamiliar transactions, call the card issuer immediately. It could be a fraudster testing the waters with one-time credit card charges.
4. If it’s missing, report it
If your card goes missing while you’re at a movie at a theater in Connecticut (or anywhere else, for that matter), report it right away. After all, you don’t want to be held liable for fraudulent charges. On the bright side, credit card liability is capped at $50, so even if you don’t report it immediately, you won’t lose too much.
Now don’t let all this talk of credit card theft keep you from enjoying a quality film. Go out, spend money and have a good time. Just be aware of these warning signs so your night at the movies doesn’t turn into a horror flick.