Don’t become a victim of identity theft
by Wes Mayer
In light of the four men recently indicted in New York City for hundreds of counts of identity fraud, many Cowetans may be thinking about how they can prevent having their identity stolen.
The four men, Garegin Spartalyan, Davit Kudugulyan, Hayk Dzhandzhapanyan and Aram Martirosian, are believed to have victimized more than 70 people in Coweta County alone in 2012 by installing a skimming device inside gas station pumps. Because the devices were inside the pumps, there was no way for customers to know they were becoming victims.
Sgt. Jason Fetner with the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office said identity fraud is the fastest-growing crime in the nation because sometimes there is not a whole lot people can do to prevent becoming a victim. For times when it is avoidable, though, Fetner shares a few tips he believes people should follow to at least make it more difficult to have their identities stolen.
First, Fetner strongly suggests never using debit cards, at least as debit. When a person uses a debit card, he explained, it is as if they are paying with their own cash. If their debit card’s financial information, such as their secret pin number, is compromised, and their personal cash is subsequently withdrawn from an ATM somewhere, their bank may not be understanding.
With credit cards, or if using a debit card as credit, Fetner said the card holder is making a financial agreement with their card’s company. With credit, the user is agreeing to provide the money used for the purchase back to the bank somewhere down the line — their personal finances are not directly affected. If their number is stolen, they can dispute it with their bank and can usually get reimbursed.
“It’s always just a better practice to use credit,” Fetner said.
Credit card numbers are still stolen often, Fetner said, but not so the thief can withdraw cash. Usually stolen credit cards are used by thieves to make purchases online, where only the card number and security code are required.
Skimming devices come in many shapes and sizes, but they all function the same way — to steal financial data when the users swipe their cards. Fetner said there are companies that illegally manufacture these skimmers, and many are designed to slip right over an ATM’s or gasoline pump’s card slot. When the user slides in their card, the skimmer reads and records their information, and all the identity thief has to do is somehow collect that data.
When it comes to ATMs, Fetner said there are a few things people should look for before using the machine. First, if the machine looks tampered with in any way, they should not even consider using it and move on. Second, they should look for small cameras, such as button-sized cameras, around the machine — these are usually used by thieves to read pin numbers on debit cards. And third, make sure there is nothing installed or slipped over the machine’s card reader.
“There is nothing wrong with pulling or tugging gently on the piece before inserting your card,” Fetner said. “I do it all the time.”
Even when people are dining out, they may be at risk of having their identities stolen, Fetner said. He advised never giving your card away and letting a server out of sight. These days, all it takes is an untrustworthy server, a cell phone’s camera and two pictures of the front and back of the card for a card’s information to be stolen.
The best thing credit and debit card owners can do is regularly check their bank statements, Fetner said. If they notice anything is amiss, notify the bank or credit bureau, cancel the card and contact local law enforcement. Fetner encourages anyone with questions or concerns to call him or Investigator Chad McDonald, who now predominantly works financial crimes, at the sheriff’s office at 770-253-1502.