Credit card fraud

April 27, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

So many fraudulent credit card transactions would be avoided, experts say, if clerks would only turn the card over.

The back is where the credit card holder's signature is. If the signature on the card doesn't match the signature on the sales slip, the answer should be "No sale."

Mindy Baker, the manager of Garfield's at Valley Mall, said employees will ask for another form of identification if there's no signature on the card.

Dan O'Connell of O'Connell Jewelers at Valley Mall said it's automatic at his store to flip the card over and compare the signatures. He said he hasn't had a problem with credit cards in 20 years.


For any purchase involving a lot of money, O'Connell Jewelers employees will ask the customer for a photo ID and call a credit card processing center that examines the customer's account.

O'Connell recalled that in December some men tried to buy a $10,000 item from his store using a Wells Fargo credit line.

Because Wells Fargo had to approve every transaction in advance, O'Connell found out the men had stolen access to the account, which belonged to someone in New Jersey. One of his employees called police, who arrested the men on the road to Frederick, Md.

Industry sources say the losses associated with credit card fraud are hundreds of millions of dollars, and probably more than $1 billion - particularly with the proliferation of Internet commerce.

Valley Mall management does not hold training meetings for its merchants because many stores have different policies, said Julie Simmons, the mall's marketing director. However, when one store is the victim of a fraud, the information is spread instantly to the other stores.

The anonymity of online transactions makes it easier to commit a crime that way than in person, said investigator Ryan Schifflet of the Washington County Sheriff's Department.

Customers who buy online must give their name and the number and expiration date of their credit card, but there's no way to prove who is using the card at that moment.

Even during legitimate online transactions, the possibility of fraud lurks because credit card information can be intercepted.

The Internet Fraud Complaint Center in Morgantown, W.Va. - a cooperative effort of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National White Collar Crime Center - recommends that customers only give their credit card numbers to "secure and reputable" sites.

A tiny padlock on the screen may indicate that the site is secure. Also look for a Web address that begins with "https" instead of "http."

In its annual report for 2002, released last week, the Internet Fraud Complaint Center states that it received 48,252 fraud complaints, triple the number it received the previous year.

Credit and debit card fraud ranked third in volume, after auction fraud and nondelivery or nonpayment.

The sum of the fraud also tripled last year, from $17 million to $54 million.

Last month, Visa USA, the world's largest credit card company, announced a measure called "receipt truncation" that it says will help cut down on fraud.

Starting July 1, all Visa receipts will only list the last four digits of the account and will not list the expiration date. The company said some merchants have started the practice already.

Thieves often use discarded financial information and other personal papers to cash checks, use credit cards and create accounts in other people's names.

"Because there is no silver bullet to eliminate identity theft, we are constantly adding new layers of security to protect cardholders," Visa USA Chief Executive Officer Carl Pascarella said at a press conference last month. "As a result of these and many other security measures, fraud within the Visa system has fallen to an all-time low of just 7 cents per $100 transacted."

Visa and other credit card companies often protect cardholders from paying for fraudulent transactions charged in their name.

Before April 2000, when Visa's Zero Liability policy took effect, customers were liable for up to $50 in unauthorized charges if they didn't report fraudulent transactions within two business days of discovering them.

The new policy eliminated those limits, meaning customers are not charged anything.

For added security, some companies offer credit cards with the customer's photo on it.

Schifflet said credit card fraud is difficult for police to investigate because of privacy. Banks can't release information about cardholders or their accounts without a subpoena, so police have to go through credit card companies' fraud units, he said.

"It takes a while," he said.

Customers also should be protective. Some people still freely give out their credit card numbers over the phone to people claiming to be from a bank or another organization, Schifflet said.

"Consider it privileged," he said.

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