Recent investigations by the Irvine Police Department have revealed that several clients of the JPMorgan Chase bank affiliated with UC Irvine have been victims of identity theft. Precursory inspections by the Irvine Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division uncovered that the perpetrator(s) installed equipment that could illegally extract intimate financial information on Chase ATM machines at 4543 Campus Drive.
A public letter submitted by Detective Sean-Paul Crawford, one of the university’s investigators of Commercial and Residential Burglary, explained that the credit card skimmer, small camera and other devices found at the premises are capable of acquiring credit and debit card details as well as pin codes, granting the culprit(s) virtually unlimited access into a victim’s bank account until apprehended.
Identity fraud, however, is not merely limited to ATM machines. According to Lieutenant Julia Engen, public information officer of the IPD, a credit card can potentially be compromised at any point-of-sale terminal; this includes — but is not limited to — grocery and retail stores, gas stations and restaurants. Such costly stakes can turn even the most trivial errands into nightmares.
“One method of compromise is a skimmer placed on an ATM machine, gas pump or any type of credit card reader,” Engen said. “Suspects working in legitimate businesses can also have skimming devices located in their pocket to swipe your card through a reader which records your credit card information.”
The bitter irony of it all is that with the aid of skimming devices, a credit card can be compromised without ever leaving the safety of the rightful owner’s possession. Designed to be imperceptible, counterfeit credit card readers can be fitted onto legal credit card readers, such as those on ATM machines or cash registers. The counterfeit reader processes a client’s transaction precisely how a legitimate credit card reader would while acquiring vital credit card information, making skimmers virtually undetectable to the untrained eye. Similarly, micro-cameras are camouflaged to blend in perfectly, hidden in a brochure holder or in an overhang, while recording crucial account access data.
Authorities have advised clients to inspect ATMs for signs of tampering, especially near the keypad or the card reader and to use cash whenever possible to decrease the chances of credit card fraud. Glue residues near the reader slot, for example, could indicate a recently installed skimmer. Another way to detect a potentially retrofitted machine is to check for any fixtures that seem loose.
Perhaps more sobering, given society’s reliance on computers in the “Age of Information,” is just how simple it is to fall into a trap of identity fraud via the Internet. If operating on an unsecure website, a victim’s credit card can easily be compromised while placing online orders.
“A key logger can be placed onto your computer that will capture the keystrokes, and therefore important information such as passwords, banking information or credit card information,” Engen said.
Experts warn that, if left unnoticed, such cases can have devastating implications on a consumer’s financial future. Victims of compromised credit cards must resolve the liability of the debts accumulated on their cards with their credit card corporations. Additionally, the consumer needs to notify the three major national credit reporting institutions, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, in order to prevent poor credit history and reduced credit score.
Security specialists stress the importance of becoming familiar with one’s credit/debit arrangement as fraud protection may vary from plan to plan. Opting for debit cards, for instance, might increase the vulnerability of one’s bank accounts.
Furthermore, a victim has only a certain time frame, as detailed in his or her individual credit account contract, to contest fraudulent transactions. In and of itself, the formal disputation process involves lengthy paperwork and a time-consuming administrative review, further complicating the victim’s situation.
Given the frequency and simplicity of identity theft, authorities encourage consumers to take preventative measures to protect their financial information. The best method to prevent credit card fraud is to rigorously monitor credit statements.
Consumers should contact their individual credit card issuers at the first sign of abnormal credit history, rather than brush it off as forgotten purchases. Moreover, it is important to remember when credit card statements should arrive; a missing statement could imply that a thief has modified the victim’s mailing address.
The IPD urges any UCI students who have become victims of identity theft to immediately cancel stolen or compromised credit cards and to notify the appropriate authorities; the sooner the cases are reported, the easier they are to solve.