POSTED: Thursday, July 25, 2013 - 5:00am
UPDATED: Thursday, July 25, 2013 - 5:04am
Baton Rouge, LA (NBC33) — Dozens of people in East Baton Rouge Parish are trying to get back money taken from them by credit card thieves. One victim is warning others to take precautions before it is too late.
"Rethink using your credit/debit card at the gas pump," said the woman, who spoke to NBC33 on the condition of anonymity. "Rethink using it at the movie kiosk. Rethink using it at a ATM that's outdoors, standing on it own, because those machines aren't maintained well enough; therefore, it's easier for criminal activity to occur at those machines."
The East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office's Financial Crimes unit  claims that white collar crimes are most prevalent during the times of year when people are most likely to shop: the holidays and before school starts.
Some of the things we do every day to try to save time are the most common ways criminals can steal your card information.
Our victim said her husband discovered a purchase recently on their bank statement that they did not make.
"He was very vocal," she recalled, "in words that you can't use on TV, saying, 'what happened? What's this charge?' And it's like, 'oh, my goodness, we've had a fraudulent charge on our account!'"
They quickly reported the fraud to their bank and the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office. Many businesses keep their surveillance footage for a couple weeks, so the faster someone spots fraudulent purchases, the more likely it is detectives can solve the case. And most cases of credit card fraud tend to be related to others.
"They were aware of activity very similar to mine," detectives told the woman. "All the way down to the name of the merchant."
Criminals have multiple ways of stealing your credit card information without taking the card. They can install skimmers into a card reader. When someone swipes their card through the machine, the skimmer downloads all the information from their magnetic strip, allowing the criminal to create brand new cards at your expense.
Criminals can also write down the numbers off your card, or take a photo of your card with their cell phone, then use the data to shop online. This method is most often seen in restaurants, when a diner hands his or her card to a waiter at the end of the meal.
"That's the biggest thing that we could do to protect ourselves now, is to not let the card walk off," the victim stated. "Again, not easy in a restaurant, because not only do they walk off, they go some place else in the restaurant to where you don't see them any longer."
She said her bank was very responsive to her report about the fraudulent charges, and it claimed it would put the stolen money back in her account by the end of the week.
The Sheriff's office noted that people should check their bank balances online every day to make sure nobody has accessed their accounts. For many people, including our victim, catching illegal activity after it happens may be easier than taking the steps to prevent it.
"I'd always had an expression before, that you pay for convenience," she said. "Well, (credit card theft) is a big pay for convenience. So I don't know that my behavior will change all the way, but I will be thinking about it and I will pay more attention."