With the holidays right around the corner, police warn that credit-card fraud is on the rise — with thieves coming up with more innovative ways to steal personal information in order to make unauthorized purchases.

“We have seen a lot of credit-card fraud stemming from auto burglary or wallet theft,” said Det. Richard Lee of the South Pasadena Police Crime Prevention Unit.

“Thieves gain the credit card by stealing wallets, either by auto burglary, theft of an unlocked vehicle or taking the wallet from a victim’s purse while they are shopping at the market. Other times, they steal it from the mail or through unsecured websites.”

Lee also warned about “skimmers,’’ which have been an ongoing issue at banks and gas stations. These fraud devices are placed by crooks at the point-of-sale (POS) terminal and used to siphon bank card and PIN data at the cash register or gas pump.

“Now with the advent of POS, the cashier doesn’t see the credit card,” Lee said. “Years ago, it was suggested to write ‘see ID’ on the signature line of the card to remind the cashier to ask for ID. The internet and POS have taken away the human aspect, as people go online to purchase groceries, clothes, meals, etc.”

There are several ways you can protect yourself from becoming a victim of credit-card fraud, Lee said. Among them:

Be cautious of your wallet or purse, and avoid leaving them unattended, whether it’s in the car while you’re at the gym or in your shopping cart at the market. Always monitor your bank and credit-card statements regularly to keep track of all purchases and immediately report any activity that looks suspicious. And whenever possible, pay with cash instead of a card.

“When using a POS at an ATM or gas station, always give the credit card reader a quick tug,” Lee said. “If there is an external skimmer, it may just pull off. However, if it was installed internally it may be harder to see. If the credit-card reader appears tampered with, don’t use it.”

Meanwhile, for those completing e-commerce transactions in-person, the South Pas Police have designated a “Safe Deal Zone” at the station house for the past three years, where people buying and selling goods in transactions that originate online can meet up.

The safe zone is located at the station lobby, which offers 24-hour video surveillance and a well-lit courtyard with access to an emergency phone that connects directly to the police dispatcher.

“We encourage residents to conduct exchanges at our station for safety reasons,” Lee said. “There have been a couple of incidents where the buyer met the suspect in our city and was robbed.”

Kamala Kirk
Author

Kamala Kirk is a contributing writer for the South Pasadena Review, San Marino Tribune and The Quarterly Magazine. Kamala formerly served as Managing Editor of Beauty Launchpad Magazine, West Coast Editor of American Salon Magazine, and Digital Editor for E! Online. A native of Hermosa Beach, California, she is a proud USC Trojan and pug mom to Wrigley the Pug (@pugofpasadena).

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