COVINGTON — Learning that someone has access to your bank account or credit card information is undoubtedly frightening, but there are steps that can be taken to minimize the damage.
Sgt. Cortney Morrison said the Newton County Sheriff’s Office has filed 20 reports since January dealing with financial card fraud. Of those, 10 were specifically related to financial card fraud, nine were reports of unauthorized use of a financial card and one was a report of the physical theft of a financial card.
“In all of those, the victims were unaware of the location where their information was compromised,” Morrison said. “It’s a very common thing to happen, and it’s unfortunate that it is, and we do everything we can. The most important thing is that the victim get the theft stopped and get an investigation going immediately.”
Morrison said often the victim is still in possession of his credit or debit card when the fraudulent transactions are taking place.
For instance, on Wednesday, a Covington woman contacted the Sheriff’s Office to report that she had received a call a few days earlier from her bank that some checks had bounced. When she checked her account online, she discovered four Visa debit card transactions had been made in Florida, the incident report states. The victim still had possession of her card, and her bank closed out the debit account the day the fraud was discovered.
In another case, a Newton County woman told deputies that she noticed when checking her mother’s bank account that a purchase of $428 was made at the Covington Kmart. The store’s loss prevention department had no information on the purchase and the bank told the victim it is likely the purchase was made online, according to the incident report.
“If you feel your credit card information or identity has been compromised in any way, the first thing you should do is notify the source of the compromised information, such as the bank or credit card company,” Morrison said. “The next thing is to place a credit fraud alert with the credit bureaus. Then, file a police report.”
This is also the time of year when identity thieves will file fraudulent tax returns. A Covington woman’s attempt to file her taxes electronically in February was rejected, so the IRS instructed her to send her return through the mail.
When she called on March 25 to check the status of her return, the IRS said someone had already filed a return using her Social Security number and that the address of the return was in Montana. The victim filed a report with the Newton County Sheriff’s Office the next day.
Morrison said she recently spoke with a husband and wife who went to a tax preparation company to file a joint return only to learn that someone had filed a joint return in the husband’s name in Arkansas.
“We would recommend filing a police report in these cases; however, definitely notify the IRS because they have special investigative units to look into tax fraud,” Morrison said.
Morrison provided the following tips to help prevent financial card fraud:
• Don’t give your account number to anyone on the phone unless you’ve made the call to a company you know to be reputable. If you’ve never done business with them before, do an online search first for reviews or complaints.
• During a transaction, try and keep your eye on your card. Make sure you get it back before you walk away.
• Never sign a blank receipt. Draw a line through any blank spaces above the total.
• Save your receipts to compare with your statement.
• Open your bills promptly, or check them online often, and reconcile them with the purchases you’ve made.
• Report any questionable charges to the card issuer.
• Notify your card issuer if your address changes.
• Don’t write your account number on the outside of an envelope.
• Update your contact information with your financial institution. Your bank can’t ask you about a suspicious charge unless it has your current phone number.
• Copy the customer service phone number from the back of each of your debit or credit cards and keep this list in a separate location from your purse or wallet in case a thief steals the latter.
• Sign up for banking alerts if offered by your financial institution. These will inform you when particular changes occur, such as irregular card activity.
• Watch out for ATMs that appear to have been altered. If anything on the front of the machine looks crooked, loose or damaged, it could be a sign that someone attached a skimming device.
• Avoid using the ATM if suspicious individuals are standing nearby. Criminals may try to distract you as you use the machine to steal your cash, or watch as you type your PIN.
• Be aware that if your card gets stuck in the machine and someone approaches to help, it may be a scam. A criminal may be trying to watch as you enter your PIN code.
• If your card gets stuck in the machine, call your financial institution promptly to report the incident.
• As you key in your PIN, cover the keypad with your other hand to block anyone, or a camera, from viewing the numbers you type.
• Notify the three credit bureaus if you believe your personal information has been compromised and put a credit alert on each of them. This way you will be notified if anyone attempts to utilize your credit information to obtain a new account.