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February 10, 1995 - Image 3

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1995-02-10

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The Michigan Daily - Friday, February 10, 1995 - 3

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Pilfering
plastic has
become a
big-time
problem
y Josh White
Daily Staff Reporter
It is a plastic society and
credit cards are useful tools
in today's world," said Staff
Sgt. Dennis Betz, who works in the
Fraud Department of the Ann Arbor
Police Department. "But people have
. take care of their credit cards and
watch out for them, or they are going
to lose a lot of money one day."
From Subway sandwiches to CDs
to textbooks to just about anything
imaginable, credit cards have become
one of the most versatile and widely-
accepted methods of payment in re-
cent years. But along with the free-
dont of toting plastic comes the possi-
Ability of losing money without even
owing about it.
Credit card fraud, which accounts
for billions of dollars in losses each
year, is a problem facing students on
campuses all across the country, ac-
cording to the National Fraud Infor-
mation Center. And the University is
no exception.
Betz said credit card fraud is one
of the most common crimes in the
4nn Arbor area, and it goes largely
unpunished.
'About half of what we see in this
department is credit related," Betz
said. "A lot of small-time fraud oc-
curs and there is very little that any-
one can do about it once charges have
been made successfully."
* Small-time credit fraud often in-
cludes a suspect stealing a card and
making small, quick charges before
the owner can report the theft to the
credit companies,. Betz said.
"Once a person picks up the card
and uses it without getting caught,
they will go ahead and make about
$300 worth of charges at various lo-
cations and then dump the card in the
trash," he said. "If the card comes up
s legitimate on the computers in the
stores, there is a good chance that the
person will get away with it."
According to Department of Pub-
lic Safety reports for last month, most
of the thefts involving credit cards on
campus were from unlocked rooms
and due to carelessness.
In January, 14 students reported
the theft of their credit cards to DPS.
@ ,ne student reported eight missing
credit cards when his wallet was taken
fron his unlocked South Quad resi-
dence hall room.
Not every theft actually involves
the card itself, as LSA first-year stu-
dent Renatt Brodsky found out during
last winter break.

"When I was home over break my
father discovered more than $2,000
f charges to my card number that I
ever made," Brodsky said. "The
charges were made at a Kmart and a
Toys 'R' Us in New Jersey and were
made just days before I got home.
"Someone in Michigan must have
gotten hold of my card number while
I was in line at a store or a cashier
somewhere must have copied the num-
ber down."
Brodsky said that Visa, the com-
*any that issued her card, notified her
father of unusual charges and can-
celled the card before more charges
could be npde. The company also
told Brodsky's family that the person
who used the number had created a

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Local bsnselaon card safety

Protecting Ahaist Fraud
Most of the losses involved in credit card thefts are easily preventable.
Staff Sgt. Dennis Betz of the Ann Arbor Police Department says using
common sense is often the best policy in protecting credit cards. Here
are some of his recommendations.
N Take care of the cards.
"Students cannot just .lt their cards lie around in places where they
can be taken," Betz said. "A lot of the fraud involves roommates and ex-
boyfriends or girlfriends who just take cards from the top of dressers or
from wallets that are lying around.
"You have to treat the cards as if they were cash," he said. "Would
you leave $5,000 out on your dresser? Believe it or not, people leave
their cards around all the time."
8 Don't write the Personal Identification Number on an ATM card.
"It may sound simple and obvious, but PIN numbers should never be
written on the cards themselves or anywhere where the card is kept,
such as in a wallet," he said. "It is amazing that people do this, and
they are just making it easier for a thief to take their money that way.
No one should ever lend a card or give away a PIN in any situation."
Cancel the card immediately after it is lost or stolen, thereby
preventing use of the card.
"If the card is cancelled immediately after it is taken or lost, it all but
eliminates the possibility of a thief being able to use it at a store," he

By Josh White
Daily Staff Reporter
Ann Arbor Police Department Staff Sgt. Dennis Betz
says store clerks are often the key in catching criminals
in the act of using stolen credit cards.
Butahe added that there is often little they can do and
little that they are willing to do.
"Retailers are caught between a rock and a hard
spot," Betz said. "They don't want to harass the cus-
tomer by asking for identification and they certainly
don't want to lose the customer's business."
And due to this, he said, clerks rely mainly on the
credit center's authorization scanner and do not bother
with matching the signature on the receipt to the signa-
ture on the card or checking for other identification.
Managers of a few local businesses that The Michi-
gan Daily visited last week all say that they try to be
as careful as possible, but admit that beyond checking
the name that the customer signs, there is little they
can do.
In a 15-minute span last week, a Daily reporter took
a Discover Card to four different locations, testing what
clerks' responses to credit transactions would be.
Tom Rule, gener. manager of Tower Records on
South University Avenue, said cashiers are instructed to
check the back of cards for a signature and to wait until
the customer signs the roeipt before returning the card.
"But not all of the cashiers check the signatures, I
know that I do, but it is all individual," Rule said. "If it
is busy, you have to go with the flow."
Unfortunately, with a cardn ot reported as stolen, the
Daily could have gotten away with fraud at Tower.
After the purchase was rung up and the card swiped,
the cashier held onto the card until the receipt printed
out. She then placed the card on the counter and placed
the receipt next to it. The reportertook the card before
signing for the purchase.
At Subway on South University Avenue, the re-
porter handed the card to the cashier, had it approved
through the scanner and was then handed the card
back before the receipt printed out. The clerk did look
at the back of the card to see if there was a signature

and then handed it back.
Paul Rosser, manager of Ulrich's Bookstore on South
University Avenue, said that cashiers there look for
signatures on the back of the card, but just to make sure
that it is there.
"They should check the card to see that it is signed
and if they would like to request more information, they
may," Rosser said. "With American Express, we are told
to check that the signature matches, and with Visa,
MasterCard and Discover, we check that there is a
signature. But we sometimes accept them without."
Upon presenting the Discover Card at the art depart-
ment of Ulrich's, the cashier took the card in her left hand
and said, "Discover Card has become really popular
lately, I have seen them quite a bit." She then swiped the
card and returned it directly, without looking at the back
of the card.
Managers at the Michigan Union Bookstore declined to
comment when asked by telephone about their store's policy
regarding credit card transactions. A fax request was also
declined.
After waiting in line at the Michigan Union Book-
store, the reporter presented the Discover card.
The cashier swiped the card and kept it until the
purchase was approved by the scanner. She then handed
the card back and placed a receipt on the counter for the
reporter to sign, as he placed the card into his-wallet.
The reporter signed the receipt "Mickey Mouse."
The cashier handed him the purchase and placed the
receipt in the drawer.
In 15 minutes, the Daily was able to use the Dis-
cover Card at four locations, spending just over $50.
Had this been a stolen or lost card, and the victim had
not reported it, the reporter may have been able to
continue the spree and spend more money.
Betz said people who steal credit cards often charge
about $300 in a short time span. They then dispose of the
card and end up virtually untraceable.
He also said that cashiers noticing unmatching signa-
tures are a key way in detecting credit card fraud.
The cashiers at these four locations would not have
noticed. One of them sold a book to Mickey Mouse.

said. "If the card is reported stolen,
person who took it."
did not hold her responsible for the
charges and issued her a new card.
Betz estimates that the number of
stolen credit cards on campus is actu-
ally much higher than the amount
reported to DPS and AAPD.
"While we encourage everyone to
report all crimes to the police, most
students will probably call their par-
ents to cancel a card once they dis-
cover it missing or will cancel it them-
selves," Betz said. "The credit card
companies will often take responsi-
bility for the loss, as long as it is fairly
small. If an individual does not stand
to lose anything, then they probably
would not report it to authorities."
One way that Discover Card pre-
vents fraud is through monitoring
devices, said Cathy Edwards, a
spokeswoman for Dean Witter, Dis-
cover and Co., the company that ad-
ministers Discover Card accounts.
"Our focus is to anticipate any
loss before it happens," Edwards said.
"This is done by watching account
activity and throwing up red flags
when unusual charges start taking
place, such as very large charges or
multiple charges in a short period of

it also makes it easier to catch the
Another unique feature of
Citibank's credit cards is Photocard,
which has the cardholder's picture
and digitized signature on the front of
the card.
American Express has programs
similar to both Discover and Citibank,
but also is strict about matching sig-
natures and does not accept unsigned
cards, a customer service agent said.
According to a May 1994 state-
ment from MasterCard International
Incorporated and the NFIC,
telemarketing fraud costs are esti-
mated at $10-40 billion per year, but
precise figures are unavailable be-
cause many victims understate or do
not report their losses.
Telemarketing fraud often in-
cludes fake promotions and advertis-
ing that lead to payments without any
merchandise or service changing
hands, according to the NFIC.
"(We urge) consumers to question
callers' telemarketing pitches, become
fully informed' about the company,
product or service being marketed,
resist pressure to provide ... credit
card numbers and report all suspicious
calls to the proper authorities," NFIC

The NFIC says that the most vul-
nerable groups of people are also the
most targeted by scam artists. Recent
immigrants, the elderly, the disabled
and the poor are the majority of
those who fall prey to telemarketing
scams.
Unlike small-time fraud with
credit cards, however, telemarketing
fraud losses are harder to recover,
according to the NFIC.
So, "being aware, informed and
skeptical is the best way to detect and

deflect fraud," said MasterCard U.S.
Region President Peter Dimsey in a
statement.
t
Without use of a scanner that credit
cards are swiped through when a pur-
chase transaction is initiated, catch-
ing the criminals in the act of credit
card fraud is extremely difficult, Betz
said.
"The store clerk is important in

partment will happen upon an orga-
nized credit card ring, and the infor-
mation they uncover is sometimes
astounding.
"We had a group called 'The
Three Amigos' come in from Cali-
fornia and they had one of the card
scanners," he said. "They had the
ability to put 'valid' numbers on sto-
len cards so that when they used a
card the computer would accept the
transaction. A clerk noticed that the
numbers on the card and those on the
computer did not match. That is when

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