It’s holiday crime time -

It’s holiday crime time

Kids, young and old alike, will delight in visiting the free annual model train display in the backyard of Dennis and Dana Busby of Gold Canyon.
It’s holiday crime time

There are ways to avoid becoming a victim, experts say

Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Malls and parking lots filled with shop­pers rushing from store to store in search of the perfect gift.

The holiday shopping season is here, and while shoppers are preoccupied with one goal, criminals also have one thing on their minds — stealing identities, cash and merchandise.

“No one is immune,” said Roger Clay, an investigator for Salt River Project, dur­ing a presentation at the Nov. 13 Queen Creek Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Distracted by holiday-related events, people may not notice information ­stealing devices such as skimmers on their ATMs. Skimmers are fraud devices attached to or inserted into cash ma­chines. They record all the keystrokes the cardholder makes off the card’s magnetic strip, Mr. Clay said.

Alert shoppers may notice the skim­mer, said Detective Andrew Goode of the Pinal County Sheriff ’s Office, which has substations in Gold Canyon and San Tan Valley, during a phone interview.

“They’ve gone to that same ATM many times and may notice it doesn’t look right,” Detective Goode said. “ They need to let somebody know about it.”

Incidents of identity theft have been minimal this year, Detective Goode said; however, “things are ramping up,” he noted.

“As it is in any area, these problems are inherently everywhere,” Detective Goode said. “It doesn’t matter where you live or shop.”

He recommends a few simple steps shoppers can take to prevent becoming crime victims:

  • When using your credit or debit card to pay for a purchase, keep an eye on what the cashier is doing with your card. The cashiers could be stealing your infor­mation.
  • Keep your vehicle locked.
  • Keep your belongings out of sight.
  • If you see a crime in progress, call 9-1-1.

He also alerts citizens to be aware of phone scams.

“They are calling elderly folks claiming to be a family member who was in a car accident and need money wired to them right away. People are falling for that right now,” Detective Goode explained.

As the holidays near, people also should not “advertise” their new gifts by displaying them under the tree with their curtains open or by throwing out mer­chandise boxes in their garbage cans, said Constance Halonen, community re­source coordinator for the Apache Junc­tion Police Department.

“This is literally a case where one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” Ms. Halonen said. “ You don’t want criminals to see you have a new big-screen TV.”

People who shop online also need to be careful on which websites they’re shop­ping.

“Only give your credit card number over secure websites. It could be an imitation website that looks legitimate but was cre­ated to collect your personal information,” Ms. Halonen explained.

Secure websites are identified by the “https” prefix in the site’s URL, or website address.

Merchants also need to keep their eyes open for fraud. Another scam gaining mo­mentum, he said, are fake credit cards being produced in Mexico. A criminal pays about $800 for a stack of 100 of the fraudulent cards, which have the criminal’s name em­bossed on them as well as a account num­ber stolen from a United States citizen.

The scam works because the criminal’s identification matches the name on the card, the detective said.

However, merchants can protect them­selves by checking the name and account number printed on the receipt. The em­bossed name and account number may not match the same information on magnetic strip of the real account-holder’s card.

People can prevent becoming crime vic­tims by following these three D’s: deter, de­tect and defend, Mr. Clay said.

“Deter identity thieves by safeguarding your information, detect suspicious activity by routinely monitoring your financial ac­counts and billing statements, and defend against identity theft as soon as you suspect a problem,” he said.