A Look at Credit Card Fraud Threat at South Florida Stores

The government says criminals are becoming very sophisticated and can manipulate technology to get your personal financial information.

By Myriam Masihy
|  Wednesday, Dec 5, 2012  |  Updated 7:00 PM EDT
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Credit card fraud is the most common form of reported identity theft, the FTC says. Paula Reed of the Secret Service talks about the issue, and Team 6 Investigators went shopping, armed with a hidden camera.

Credit card fraud is the most common form of reported identity theft, the FTC says. Paula Reed of the Secret Service talks about the issue, and Team 6 Investigators went shopping, armed with a hidden camera.

Credit card fraud is the most common form of reported identity theft according to the Federal Trade Commission and Florida is the state with the highest per capita rate of reported ID theft complaints.

The government calculates that credit card fraud costs the country as much as $500 million a year, making this lucrative criminal industry a top priority of the Secret Service.

“There is a huge concern as to the stability of our financial infrastructure as it is being compromised by folks out there with the criminal intent,” said Paula Reed, Secret Service Special Agent in Charge of the Miami Office.

The government says criminals are becoming very sophisticated and can manipulate technology to get your personal financial information. But just how do they use it? Are fraudulent transactions only electronic or can criminals actually take a stolen credit card and pile on the charges without being stopped? Looking for answers, the Team 6 Investigators went shopping.

Armed with a hidden camera, we picked five stores at random then sent a producer shopping with another staffer’s unsigned credit card.

According to Visa, Mastercard and American Express, an unsigned card is invalid, but as we discovered, no one checked the signature strip. Our producer was able to buy an $80 vase at a Zgallerie store without having to show ID. At Icing, she bought a $38 purse with no questions asked. At Best Buy, she walked out with two $50 video games and during two trips to JcPenney, she got $150 worth of clothing.

At hhGregg something else happened. The clerk asked our producer for her name which didn’t match the name on the card. She gave him her real name, her phone number and even handed him the card when he said he needed the numbers on the back. He typed all that information into a computer and still rang her up. She walked out with a car stereo worth $100.

“That’s sad,” said Carmen Caldwell, executive director of the Miami-Dade Citizens’ Crime Watch. She adds that “every business should really train their employees to ask for that ID. “

So what are the merchants supposed to be doing? Visa told us if there is no signature, the card should not be accepted. If a Discover card is not signed, merchants are required to ask for two pieces of ID. Mastercard says unsigned cards are invalid, while American Express goes on to say if the card is not signed the merchant has to ask the customer to sign it and compare it with a photo ID. As for signed cards, Mastercard says their merchants should compare the signature on the card with the receipt and Visa explains that it is contrary to their policy to require the cardholder to show id as a condition of the sale.

Knowing the rules, we proceeded to ask the merchants about our shopping spree. At JcPenney, a manager told us that if the cards are not signed her employees are “always supposed to check ID.”

The other four stores declined on-camera interviews but in a statement Zgallerie told us “all employees do their best to follow the guidelines as set forth by the credit card companies and ZGallerie.”

Icing’s parent company Claire’s said: “It is company policy to request picture ID when a customer’s credit card is not signed” while hhgregg confirmed they “should be following each credit card company’s policy and procedures which typically is to verify that the card is signed and that the signature matches at the time of purchase.”

Best Buy said their “employees should verify that the customer’s signature matches the signature on the back of the credit card.” But that didn’t happen at any of the stores.

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