Bay county sheriff's officials say they've seen a large increase in the number of local credit card fraud and identity thefts cases over the last month. They met Thursday afternoon to go over the evidence and talk about tips for residents.
Officials say victims are reporting getting bills from places like Tucson, Arizona and Green Bay, Wisconsin - the problem is, they haven't been to those cities. Bay County Sheriff's investigators say they're working almost 75 different credit card cases that have occurred since September 11th.
Some victims lost as little as $30, others got hit for more than $2,000. Authorities say they've seen say credit theft rise exponentially over the last few years. "You make more money with a credit card than you do with a bank robbery,” said Sheriff Frank McKeithen, “but you go to jail longer with a bank robbery."
Investigators say many of the thieves have turned to electronic card scanners, known as skimmers.
"It's a small portable device that once a credit card or debit card is swiped through it, it reads and records the information on the magnetic strip on the back of the card,” explained Investigator Craig Romans. “It fits in your front pocket, it's very inconspicuous."
The thief then downloads the information off the magnetic card's strip, sells it to someone in another state, who makes new cards with your account information. The cases are also hard to prosecute, because the crimes cross state lines.
"We're working that right now in conjunction with the federal government,” said Investigator Paul Vecker. “Just notified them and they're going to be assisting us in the investigation due to the situation that it's such a large number and also since it's crossing state lines."
Often time the victim is unaware they've been ripped-off until the thief has used the card several times.
"I mean if someone stole my credit card right now, you know,” said McKeithen. “I probably wouldn't know it was stolen until the next time I tried to use it, which could be a week from now."
Experts say use credit cards rather than a debit card when paying for purchases, save receipts and compare them to your billing statements, and use cash whenever possible. You can also ask your bank about theft protection programs they may offer on the debit and credit cards they issue.