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Keep an eye on your credit cards

December 20, 1997

Keep an eye on your credit cards

By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Staff Writer

Don't let hectic holiday crowds make you careless in the rush to finish your gift shopping.

Credit card fraud, like other types of theft, increases during the holiday season, police officials say.

Keeping close tabs on your credit cards, receipts and statements and limiting access to your Social Security number and other personal information are your best protection against becoming a victim, say police and credit industry experts.

Technological advances have been a major weapon in the battle against credit card fraud, said Jerry Iannacci, regional investigator in charge of Hagerstown-based Citicorp Credit Services Inc.'s fraud unit.

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But it's still up to people - users and merchants - to take the proper precautions to avoid becoming victims of fraud, Iannacci said.

VISA reported $460 million in fraud losses in the United States last year, he said.

According to VISA, the majority of losses - 54 percent - stemmed from lost or stolen cards, Iannacci said.

Counterfeit cards accounted for only 14 percent of the losses, he said.

It's important to treat your credit cards like cash, Iannacci advises.

Sign the card as soon as you get it, then don't leave it unattended, he said.

Never lend your credit card to someone else - you open yourself up to liability for their purchases, authorized or not, Iannacci said.

A fraud investigation sometimes leads to a family member or friend who used a credit card for unauthorized purchases, he said.

Be careful with your credit card information, Iannacci said.

Don't give it out to telephone and mail solicitors until you've initiated contact, he said.

Always take your charge slips and destroy any carbon copies, Iannacci said.

Check your monthly statements closely and report any unauthorized charges, he said.

Report lost or stolen cards immediately, Iannacci said.

To make it easier to keep track of your cards in the midst of the mayhem, bring only one credit card and one debit card to the malls with you, advises Joanne Kerstetter, president of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Washington.

That's also a good way to keep track of your purchases and makes it easier to detect and report both fraud and simple mistakes, Kerstetter said.

For example, sometimes a transaction will seem to not go through the first time and is repeated only to show up twice on your bill, she said.

With sales clerks so busy and many of them seasonal employees, there's a greater chance a fraud attempt will go undetected during the holiday shopping rush, Kerstetter said.

Citicorp has taken a proactive approach to credit card fraud with innovative technological safeguards, the company's monitoring purchases for unusual spending patterns and a constant effort to educate consumers and vendors, Iannacci said.

In addition to those "front-end" proactive measures, the company, working in conjunction with federal agents and postal inspectors, fully investigates and prosecutes crimes, he said.




Protect your credit cards with these tips

Citicorp Credit Services fraud investigator Jerry Iannacci offers the following safety tips for credit card holders:

* Watch out for mail and telephone solicitors making tempting offers and asking for your credit card information. Don't give it to them. Only give that information when you initiate the call.

* Treat your credit card like cash. Never leave it unattended.

* Memorize your personal identification number. Don't write it in an accessible place.

* Never lend your card. If you do, you're responsible for any unauthorized use.

* Make sure you sign your credit card as soon as you get it.

* Make sure the vendor looks at your signature when you make a purchase. Don't get upset if you're asked for additional identification, especially around the holidays.

* Report lost or stolen cards to the issuing institution immediately.

* Review your monthly statement and report any discrepancies immediately.

* Always take your charge slips; destroy any carbon copies.

* Use great safety at automatic teller machines. Be aware of your surroundings, and make sure no one can see you enter your personal identification number. Don't count your money there. If you're going to a drive-up machine, make sure your vehicle's doors are locked.

* Make sure your mail box is secure. Promptly remove your mail. If you're going away, ask the post office to hold your deliveries.

* Don't put preapproved credit card applications in your mail box with the flag up. Don't let it out of your possession until its in the U.S. Postal Service's system.

Additional safety tips for retailers:

* Remember that an authorization terminal can't tell if the person is acting suspiciously. Advise the issuer of your suspicions through the "Code 10" process; they'll talk you through how to handle it.

* Hold the card through the entire transaction. Always compare the numbers printed on the card with the numbers embossed on the receipt. Make sure the card is signed.

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