Holiday thefts can be avoided

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Learning that your credit card information has been stolen is a quick way to bring any holiday spirit to a halt.

Unfortunately, it's likely that many people in Augusta will find themselves the victims of financial crimes this Christmas season.

Richmond County sheriff's Sgt. Randy Hayes said there is always an increase in financial crimes during the holidays. The main way to save yourself the pain of being a victim is to stay aware.

"Once your credit card information has been compromised, it can take years to get it back under control," Hayes said.

When handing a clerk a credit card, be aware of the clerk's actions, and the actions of those around you.

If the clerk swipes the card and immediately hands it back, everything's fine. If the clerk places the card off to the side, however, the card owner should immediately question the action.

Hayes said there's never a reason for anyone to write down a credit card number. If that happens, there's a problem.

Camera phones can pose another concern.

"Camera phones are really good now, and people will take a picture of your card," Hayes said. "You don't even think anything about someone standing next to you on a phone because it's so common. But if you lay your card down and this person is good enough and quick enough, then they've got your information."

The thief can then take the information and use in online to make purchases.

Although there hasn't been a case yet in Augusta, financial crime departments across the country are dealing with information being stolen by "skimmers."

In a matter of seconds, the small devices, sometimes attached to automated teller machines, can capture information from every swipe.

Thieves will take the information and make another credit card. The copies usually are white cards made with duplicate magnetic strips.

Small cameras are sometimes attached near the skimmer to record personal identification numbers.

Hayes suggests sticking to one ATM that you are familiar with and will recognize changes on. Always shield the keypad when punching in your PIN, even if it seems you're alone.

The major problem Richmond County sees is credit cards being stolen from vehicles.

"A lot of people have a false sense of security about their vehicles," Hayes said. "The people who leave stuff in their cars aren't thieves; they're trustworthy people who think if a car's locked no one's going to enter it.

"Well, a thief is a thief, and he's going to do whatever he needs to do to get in."

Never leave your wallet or purse in a vehicle. Even if it's hidden or locked away in the trunk, it isn't safe.

Hayes said he has seen cases in which people break into the car to unlock the trunk and remove the property.

Vehicle break-ins, in general, will increase during the holidays, according to Sgt. Paul Evans.

Sometimes the presents hidden away in shopping bags are just as appetizing to crooks as the unattended purse.

Evans suggested parking close to the shopping center in a well-lighted area and making sure all objects are out of view.

Although using a credit card during the holidays can seem scary, carrying only cash isn't always the right idea, either. If someone spies your wad of $100 bills, you just as likely to be victim, Hayes said.

Online shopping tips

- Beware of counterfeit sites that look identical to the original site.

- Pop-ups leading to sites with similar products are always a big risk.

- If you question the site, contact the site immediately to ask questions.

- Use your judgment; if the deal's too good to be true, it probably is.

- Look for a real-world presence: an address, phone number, etc.

- Make sure a padlock is visible in the upper-right corner before giving personal information.

Sources: Sgt. Randy Hayes of Richmond County Sheriff's Office, getsafeonline.org


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