If you're like Tucson resident Nellida Pena, you'll never forget that awful feeling of having your credit or debit card information stolen.
"I'm always going to be thinking about this," Pena said. "I'll always be paranoid."
A couple of years ago, someone in Tucson used a skimming device at a gas station pump to get her card number, and then spent $400 out of her account.
"That makes me crazy," she said. "We work hard for our money, and then for somebody just to be able to take it away just like that. That's not fair."
We've seen these card skimming scams before, but now there's a new twist. Criminals are taking your credit card information, obtained from these skimmers, and planting the information on seemingly benign plastic, like retail gift cards.
It's called "card cloning." It's an even more sinister version of card fraud.
"It's even harder to try to catch someone doing this because they don't really have to provide any kind of ID," explained Det. Craig Arndt, with the Tucson Police Department fraud unit.
Card cloning has popped up in various communities across the United States, and Detective Arndt is confident it won't be long until the scheme shows up in southern Arizona because fraud crimes spread very quickly. He adds that just because it's not yet being reported here, that doesn't mean it's not already happening here.
"I would be surprised if it doesn't come to Tucson," he said. "And I would even say that it's already here."
As a consumer, you can get ahead of the crime wave by taking steps now to protect yourself.
There are some ways to tell if there's a card skimmer installed on a device before you use it. Many times, the skimmer will be a slightly different color than the rest of the unit, or it will shake if you pull on it.
Also these days, criminals are getting your card data without even accessing your card at all. They're hacking into banks, big-box stores, and small businesses to get your financial information. Businesses are urged to strengthen their computer security.
Be sure to monitor your bank statement often. If fraudulent charges appear, you'll want to notify your bank immediately to do damage control.
And when making those plastic purchases, remember that you'll likely have less damage to clean up if your credit card is compromised, as opposed to your debit card.
As criminals get smarter, card fraud continues to get more advanced. Police say thieves are getting away with hundreds of millions of dollars every year – a cost that we all ultimately end up paying for, in higher interest rates.
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