CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) – Thieves don’t need to physically possess a credit card to launch an illegal shopping spree at your expense.
They just need the card’s information.
Some use a method known as “cloning.”
“The information that’s contained on the magnetic strip has been taken from a victim, unknowing person and replanted onto a different card,” said Chris Chojnacki, a detective with the Cheektowaga Police Department.
“It’ll look like a real credit card. It’ll look like something that you see every day in your own wallet,” he added.
Cheektowaga police are currently working a case involving a cloned stolen credit card used to purchase gift cards at an area mall.
Credit card cloning is an identity theft tactic that allows thieves to create a fake credit card by stealing the information off an actual card.
Cheektowaga Police Detective Jim Genson says they’ll use a device known as a “skimmer.”
When a customer swipes their card, the skimmer will record the card information.
“There’s skimmers that they put on the ATMs. There’s skimmers that they put on the gas pumps nowadays,” Genson explained. “They’ve actually gotten to the point now where they open up the gas pump, insert the skimmer inside and close it up, and you’ll never know.”
Consumers are left vulnerable, not knowing the card information could be duplicated and used illegally.
“It could be something as simple as a waitress or a waiter at a restaurant that you hand a credit card to and they run it through a machine — a skimmer,” said Chojnacki.
Millions of credit cards have been converted to so-called “smart cards” — cards embedded with computer chips in an effort to cut down on fraud.
The good news is there are steps individuals can take to protect against fraud — like keeping track of your account information and setting limits.
“If you know that the most you’re ever going to charge is a couple of hundred dollars on your card — set limits on your card in case it does get stolen,” Chojnacki suggests.
Experts recommend setting up mobile bank alerts for your phone, monitor your accounts online regularly so if there’s a problem you’ll know about sooner, and stick with established merchants and websites.
Chojnacki says he tells people all the time to pay with cash if they can.
“There’s people out there that are looking to take advantage of unsuspecting people all the time,” he said.