Scams, Lies, and Credit Cards: Fraud Rings’ Five Favorite Schemes

Written by
Joe Taylor Jr.
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Even if you’ve become religious about shredding your credit card statements before you toss them away, criminals can still find ways to cheat you out of time and money. Investigators want you to watch for five of the fastest growing sources of identity theft and credit card forgeries:

#1: The Fraudulent Fraud Department
A scammer calls you, claiming to be from your bank’s credit card fraud investigation team. They rattle off your entire credit card number and mailing address, then ask you to confirm your recent $499 charge to an online retailer. When you say you didn’t make that charge, the caller asks for the three digit code from the back of your credit card. That’s all they need to unleash a flurry of charges to your account.

#2: The Server Skim
In restaurants and hotels, you’re likely to part ways with your credit card at some point. A fraud ring’s accomplice, often a hapless service worker paying off a gambling debt, runs your credit card through a handheld “skimmer” while out of your view. The contents of your magnetic stripe get transmitted to an accomplice who clones your card for big ticket purchases.

#3: The Nosy ATM
You think you’re playing it safe by looking for an ATM that’s part of your bank’s preferred network, in a well-lit neighborhood, under security cameras. What you might not notice are the extra chunks of plastic stuck to the teller machine. A magstripe skimmer can fit directly over an ATM’s own card reader, while a pinhole camera above the keypad captures your security code.

#4: The Suspicious Screen Saver
A good piece of malware doesn’t just show up on your computer by accident. Instead of sneaking in as a virus, the most effective identity theft tools pose as useful applications. Free screensavers and games can hide keystroke loggers that transmit every character you type to a remote location, revealing personal information like credit card numbers and bank passwords.

#5: The Awful Auction Escrow Service
You’ve just placed the winning bid for an eBay item, and the seller asks if you wouldn’t mind saving them some cash by paying through a special link instead of through the auction site’s own checkout system. Instead of buying a trinket, you’re really sending your credit card account details directly to an online fraud ring.

And if you’re not already wary, wait until your home phone and your cell phone both start ringing off the hook with strange, recorded sales pitches. Identity thieves tie up your phone lines while they drain your accounts. Your banks’ fraud departments won’t be able to reach you to confirm large charges, nor will you be able to use your own phone to call your card issuers. Security experts recommend keeping at least one private or emergency phone number, like a cheap, prepaid cell phone, to prevent this kind of identity hacking.

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