Shoppers aren't the only ones heading to the mall looking for
gifts this holiday season. So are credit-card thieves.
The potential for credit-card fraud increases this time of
year, when hordes of harried shoppers are out and about with credit
cards. More than one-third of all sales transactions each year take
place between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Each year, thieves and con artists bilk individuals and
businesses worldwide out of more than $2 billion. Credit-card
companies are fighting back: By 1997, many credit cards will have
computer chips embedded in them to help protect card owners from
But even without computer chips, you can still be a smart card
user, says James H. Steel, vice president of security and risk
management for MasterCard International. He is a former Secret
Service agent who supervised criminal investigations relating to
credit card fraud.
On a mall tour Tuesday, T Steel pointed out situations in a
department store and several smaller shops that could lead to fraud
for merchants and customers.
The worst thing he saw was a customer flashing about $150 in
cash, openly riffling through the bills to pay for a purchase.
"It's a good thing we're good people," Steel said. "If we were
crooks, we might follow her to the parking lot and try to get some
of that cash."
Watching another transaction, Steel noted that the clerk gave
back the customer's credit card without checking whether the
signature on the back of the credit card matched the signature on
the sales receipt.
Checking the signature is "one way merchants can make sure they
are dealing with the card owner," he said. He said sales clerks are
trained to look at credit cards for signs of tampering on the
hologram or the embossed numbers. The signature strip, he said, is
Clerks who are suspicious of any card - or card holder - are
encouraged to call a sales processor, who in turn calls the issuer
of the card to verify the owner of the card. Sometimes, those steps
lead to a call to mall security or the police. Alert clerks may
collect rewards of up to $1,000 from credit card companies for
helping to derail fraud.
Steel told a story about a man who went into a bank in Des
Moines to get a cash advance with a credit card. The teller was
skeptical about the driver's license the man presented for
identification. When the teller phoned the sales processor, the man
jumped on the counter, grabbed the driver's license and ran. …