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November 7, 2013

Fraud on rise

Credit-card crime accelerates during Christmas season

Athens — The Christmas season is prime-time for credit-card fraud. An Athens Police Department Detective reports that they’ve started early this year.

APD Det. James Bonnette serves as the primary fraud detective at the department, and sees an increase in the fraud-relevant case load every year around the Christmas holidays. Bonnette said increase is generally observed, for the most part, around Black Friday period, throughout the first of the year and even into March.

“Some years, it might not even start until mid-December, and fizzle out by February,” Bonnette said. “This year, the increase has begun around the end of October.”

Bonnette said fraud cases often occur weeks before they’re reported, and many variables account for the lag time between the crime and the report.

“Sometimes the victims of these crimes get into the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, and let their guard down in reference to keeping a constant vigil on their respective financial accounts,” Bonnette said. “Usually a credit-card account that is seldom used is flagged for suspicious activity relatively quickly, as a result of irregular patterns or purchases or even locations of purchases. The problem with those credit or debit-card accounts that are constantly used is that this constant activity makes it more difficult for your financial institution to recognize unusual activity.”

Bonnette said fraud often occurs on the web, but be alert when making local purchases, as well. 

“A recent case involved a young lady and her friend traveling in her car,” Bonnette said.  “Once stopped for fuel, she leaves her purse inside the vehicle with her trusted friend as she exits the vehicle.  Later that day, she checks her account to realize an ATM transaction for $500 took place since that morning. She looks inside her purse to realize that her debit card is missing, and the only person she came in contact with that day was her friend.  Surveillance video later confirmed her fear that her friend was not as trustworthy as she believed.”

Bonnette said although the case he mentioned involved a stolen credit card, don’t believe that just because you haven’t lost possession of your card no one can use it. Card-cloning is still on the rise. 

“What this means is that the criminal encodes the magnetic strip of another card with your financial institutions information, and begins using the cloned card,” Bonnette said. “This just occurred with me on the 6th, and I found myself, a fraud detective, making a report as a victim of fraud. I keep a constant vigil on all my accounts, and keep a current copy of my credit report at all times. This is proof-positive that no one is 100-percent protected, no matter how safe you are.”

“I don’t intend to sound as if there is no hope.,” Bonnette said.  “Great advances in fraud detection by law enforcement, financial institutions, credit card companies, credit monitoring services and the like, have been made, and are constantly being improved upon. Convictions are piling up on a consistent basis.  We are nowhere close to winning the war against fraud, as it is a constantly changing environment. However we are advancing day-by-day.”

Bonnette urges the credit-card holder to keep watching those accounts, don’t allow your identifying information out anywhere it doesn’t need to be, and check your credit report on a regular basis.

“I love meeting new people, but I would rather not refer to a person I just met as a victim, if it can be avoided,” Bonnette said. “Though I would have to commend most financial institutions that I deal with in their tireless efforts, only the account holder can ultimately know for certain if the charges are fraudulent or not.”    

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