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Electronic thefts hard to pinpoint
Law enforcement gives tips on ways to keep credit/debit cards safe
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To see how one local restaurant deals with electronic thefts, click here.

Ways to try to prevent electronic theft, recommended by Newton County Sheriff's Office:

With multiple ways to access your information, authorities suggest multiple ways to keep your information safe. Here are a few suggested by the NCSO:
• Don’t give your account number to anyone on the phone unless you’ve made the call to a company you know to be reputable. If you’ve never done business with them before, do an online search first for reviews or complaint.

• During a transaction, try and keep your eye on your card. Make sure you get it back before you walk away.

• Never sign a blank receipt. Draw a line through any blank spaces above the total.

• Save your receipts to compare with your statement.

• Open your bills promptly or check them online often and reconcile them with the purchases you've made.

• Report any questionable charges to the card issuer.

• Notify your card issuer if your address changes.

• Don't write your account number on the outside of an envelop.

• Update your contact information with your financial institution. Your bank can't ask you about a suspicious charge unless it has your current phone number.

• Copy the customer service phone number from the back of each of your debit or credit cards and keep this list in a separate location from your purse or wallet in case a thief steals the latter.

• Sign up for banking alerts if offered by your financial institution. These will inform you when particular changes occur, such as irregular card activity.

• Watch out for ATMs that appear to have been altered. If anything on the front of the machine looks crooked, loose or damaged, it could be a sign that someone attached a skimming device.

• Avoid using the ATM if suspicious individuals are standing nearby. Criminals may try to distract you as you use the machine to steal your cash, or watch as you type your PIN.

• Be aware that if your card gets stuck in the machine and someone approaches to help, it may be a scam.

• A criminal may be trying to watch as you enter your PIN code.

• If your card gets stuck in the machine, call your financial institution promptly to report the incident.

• As you key in your PIN, cover the keypad with your other hand to block anyone, or a camera, from viewing the numbers you type.

• Notify the three credit bureaus if you believe you r personal information has been compromised and put a credit alert on each of them. This way you will be notified if anyone attempts to utilize your credit information to obtain a new account.

Debit and credit cards have added an ease to life that most people have grown accustomed to.

However, they also have created an easy way for thieves to steal money.

Newton County has seen its share of credit thefts and fraud with roughly 15 cases reported last week and an estimated 20 cases apiece reported to the Covington Police Department (CPD) and the Newton County Sheriff’s Office (NCSO) since Feb. 1

The stealing of funds, credit/debit card numbers and information has been occurring at businesses, over the phone, over the web and through cash machines, resulting in money missing from accounts and being spent all over the world.

One report to the NCSO said more than $600 was spent at Walmart March 11 after the physical card went missing, another one told of an unknown charge of greater than $300 made in Lithonia on March 22 and another had reports of checks bouncing after discovering there were transactions made in Florida on March 22. The incidents are occurring with cards from all different institutions, credit unions and banks. According to both CPD and NCSO, many of the thefts get reported straight to the banks.

One local restaurant has gone through multiple measures to stop any possible theft after an investigation of on-site thefts turned out to be nothing. (See sidebar for the restaurants efforts to stop the hard-to-fight crime.)

According to authorities, the physical cards don’t even need to leave your possession for your information to be stolen.

“In all of these cases…the victim is unaware as to the location in which the information was compromised,” NCSO Public Information Officer Cortney Morrison said about the cases since Feb. 1.

Almost every business operates with a computerized financial system these days, and software struggles to keep up with the advancements in criminal technologies, officials said.

Covington Police Captain Ken Malcom said it’s hard to identify the root of the problems at times because of the lack of pattern.

“Periodically, a record system would be compromised, because it compromised multiple card numbers which are hit hard and quick,” Malcom said. “It may not happen again. There is no common denominator, just strangers who don’t always go to the same place or visit the same websites.”

Thefts are also occurring via phishing systems used to grab large quantities of credit card numbers out of gas machines.