With technology advancing in leaps and bounds in the last decade, it is only natural that there would be some unpredicted and unwanted side effects. Just as high-tech advancement has made consumers' lives easier, so to has it aided the criminal underbelly of society.
This is particularly true when it comes to identity theft, said Covington Police Detective D.J. Seals.
There is a handheld device called a skimmer which can copy credit card information with just a swipe through the machine.
"I'm not trying to freak anybody out," Seals said. "Let's make sure we don't scare anybody into not going to restaurants anymore. I've never heard of this locally, but in Atlanta, there have been waiters with very small skimmers in their pockets. As they go back to process your ticket, they swipe your credit card through and then stick it back in their pocket."
Normally when this happens, the person who stole the information sells it instead of using it themselves. Skimmers can easily be purchased online
Criminals can also go on the Web and purchase what is known as a white card. The white card looks just like a credit card expect it is white with no printing on the front or back.
White cards are often used in conjunction with skimmers. The skimmer is hooked up to a computer and the credit card information is downloaded. Then, with what Seals described as a very simple piece of software, the information is transferred to the white card or, in some cases, multiple white cards.
"But what are you going to do with a white card?" Seals said. "It's white with no writing on it and no imprint on it. What are you going to do with that? Anything you want to. They can use it at any self checkout or pay at the pump they want to use. You're not going to get the greatest and best picture of somebody pumping gas. It's easy to put a ball hat on and that's all you see."
Some criminals combine new technology with old-fashioned tricks when stealing credit card information. Seals said cashiers can use a cell phone to take a picture of the front and the back of a credit card and then use the information to shop online. They can also simple write the numbers down.
Seals advises people to always look at their receipt after paying with a credit card. The receipt will often have four numbers of the credit card printed at the top, but what numbers it prints is determined by a setting on the machine.
"How many people actually look at their full statement at the end of the month each month? Very few," Seals said. "So if it's a $30 hit here and there, you'll never notice it. The people know to stay under the radar."
They know that after a couple of charges, it's going to get shut down or people are going to start looking.
"If they don't put that setting on there, it will print out your entire credit card number," Seals said. "If it does that, you get a copy and they get a copy. If it is on there, take a pen and scratch your's and their's out. They don't need it for any reason."
Checking account numbers can be even more valuable to a criminal. Once a thief has a person's checking information, they can use check generating software on the Internet to make real checks for themselves.
"The software is there for small businesses that might not need a lot of checks, but they want to print their own. They are completely legal documents after you have printed them out. Anybody will take them and you won't know it is bad."
Criminals can acquire a person's checking account information in a number of ways, including discarded checks already processed by stores like Wal-Mart.
"Don't loose it and don't throw it away," Seals said. "There are techniques where I can 'wash' your personal check that you gave to Wal-Mart. It does not hurt the paper, but it will take the ink off. Your signature is still on it and they can go to your bank and cash it."
Despite the crooks' advanced technology, Seals said most cases were still solved with good old-fashioned investigation. This mostly includes calling around and knocking on doors, but has little to do with high tech wizardry.
"Unfortunately, the land of C.S.I. is not here," Seals said. "When we see these things on TV, its good TV, but all this digitizing of license plates and all this enhancing photos is not happening here. I get asked at least twice a month by a victim if when I get a picture of the person, I can then cross reference it with my facial identification software. We don't have that. It exists with the F.B.I. and the C.I.A., but we don't have that or the access to it. Atlanta doesn't. It's there, it's not fiction, but it's not common place."
But the state of Georgia is at least attempting to even the playing field. Georgia has entered into an agreement with Absolute Software Corporation to help protect sensitive data, including identities.
As part of the state's "Securing Sensitive Data" initiative, the agreement allows state institutions to purchase software from Absolute at a discounted rate. Walter Ocner, who is handling the Georgia account for Absolute, said the technology mainly focus on information which can be retrieved off stolen computers.
If a computer with people's identities on it is stolen, the company can remotely delete the files once the computer is logged onto the Internet, Ocner said. Absolute can also freeze the entire computer and, in some cases, tell where the thief is located by tracking the IP address of the user.